Message-ID: <9610201143.AB00806@ info.usaid.gov>
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 1996 14:17:31 -5
African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List
From: Jeff Cochrane <jeffc@INFO.USAID.GOV>
To: Multiple recipients of list AFRIK-IT <AFRIK-IT@LISTSERV.HEA.IE>
This message comes to you from somewhere between Yaounde and Douala. My car is surrounded by rather dense forests, with occasional breaks for palm plantations and farms. We pause occasionally to pay our toll—a fee of 500 CFA to be used to maintain the highway, which is already one of the nicest I've been on in Africa.
I've spent the last four days in Yaounde, hosted by Derek Asoh and the people of the University of Yaounde's Polytechnic. The food has been superb—especially a dish called DG, which stands for Director General, and is certainly fit for one. You'll have to ask Derek to explain how to find the restaurant—it's in a quartier not too far from downtown, upstairs in a flat that houses both the restaurant and a beauty parlor.
Derek took me on a virtual tour of the new SDNP computer on which has been installed Linux and related services for UUCP, PPP, POP3, and SMTP. Derek's got Linux and also Win95 clients installed on various computers, and so we put the various systems through their paces.
The purpose of my visit to Cameroon was to explore possibilities for Internet access for USAID's environmental program partners in the region. However, as is my custom, I also took time to try and learn about the general state of Internet access in Cameroon. I hope you find the excerpt below from my trip report to be of interest.
Jeff @ Douala to catch a flight to Libreville
A series of meetings was held at the University of Yaoundé's Polytechnic School (Ecole Nationale Superieure Polytechnique) and at the offices of the UNDP. The UNDP's Sustainable Development Networking Program (SDNP) has recently initiated a new electronic mail system at the Polytechnic, bringing to four the number of electronic mail options there, operating on three separate computers:
CamFido, email@example.com, mail routed via GreenNet in London. Users pay an annual subscription of CFA 125,000 plus about CFA 12,500 per month for unlimited volume (CFA 500 = US$ 1). Polling costs have been paid in the past by the UN-ECA's CABECA project, which recently ended. It is expected that GreenNet will soon begin recovering telephone line charges from CamFido. CamFido is expected to pay that expense, plus the salary of a system operator, from subscription fees, and is intended to be fiscally self-sustaining.
HealthNet, firstname.lastname@example.org, mail routed via HealthNet's Boston node. HealthNet is a project of Satelife, and receives support from USAID and others. Healthnet operates on the same computer as CamFido. HealthNet polling costs are paid from Boston. Local users pay a nominal fee. Access is reportedly limited to persons in the health sector.
Polynet, email@example.com, mail routed via RIO's node in Montpelier. Polling is five times daily. Users pay a CFA 200,000 annual subscription plus CFA 130 per kilobyte (about US$0.50 per 2000 kilobyte page) with no other monthly charge. Polynet is reportedly financially self-sustaining.
SDNP/Cameroon, firstname.lastname@example.org, mail routed via SNDP's node in New York. SDNP is a program of the UNDP. No prices have as yet been established. SDNP/UNDP is presently paying all polling costs, plus the salaries of two staff, and has donated all equipment (two high-capacity PC servers with related hardware and software). A budget for running costs and facilities improvements has been submitted to New York, where approval is pending.
Operating expenses for each of these four options are managed separately. Administration of CamFido, HealthNet, and SDNP/Cameroon is within the Automation and Control Laboratory of the Polytechnic. Polynet is operated within the Mathematics Department of the Polytechnic.
In addition to these systems at the Polytechnic, there are two services at the Centre SYFED, which is supported by France:
REFER encourages research and education in the francophone world, and operates a small library in Yaoundé. In the library are terminals where visitors can in principle browse the Internet, though access is limited to three hours per day to contain costs. The REFER web site can be viewed from any international Internet site during those same three hours. Access is provided via X.25 lines to the AUPELF server in Paris, where a mirror copy of the Yaoundé site is maintained for viewing when Cameroon is offline. The cost of the line is roughly CFA 100 per minute and CFA 4.2 per kilobyte. (Hence time charges for the three hours daily are about US$35 per day or about $1000 per month.) Because of cost, Web browsing is discouraged. The hope is that an inexpensive link to the Internet will become available locally so that the Centre SYFED web services can be expanded. In the meantime, the Centre SYFED offers an ideal place for demonstration of Internet tecnologies.
The Centre SYFED does offer electronic mailboxes to researchers, educators, and others locally, with access to these mailboxes provided through a Minitel account. Minitel is a text data system popular in France that operates at Centre SYFED via X.25 lines. There are four Minitel ports, permitting up to four simultaneous users of the system. Two terminals are available in the Centre SYFED library. Messages can be printed, but the terminals do not permit messages to be saved to diskette. Terminals are inexpensive, costing about $200. Mailboxes for educators and researchers in the francophone world (e.g. doing work with or about the French language) are free. There is a nominal CFA 8000 per month for mailboxes for others on an experimental basis. Terminals at the Centre SYFED can be accessed free of charge by all.
HealthNet and CamFido clients can exchange mail locally. Mail between all other pairs of systems within Cameroon must be exchanged via their respective international gateways. Thus for example, an electronic mail message from a user of Polynet sent to a user of SDNP-Cameroon must pass from Yaoundé to Montpelier via X.25 lines, are then passed through an Internet gateway and transmitted to New York to the SDNP-New York computer. The message again passes through a gateway and is transmitted by telephone lines back to Yaoundé to SDNP-Cameroon.
SDNP systems are reportedly to be established in several of the other [Central African] countries—some equipment has already been shipped. These other national SDNP systems may be polled directly from New York, just as in the case of SDNP/Cameroon. However, there is under consideration the possibility of having these other SDNP systems route their mail destined for New York and beyond via the SDNP/Cameroon system.
All of the service providers in Cameroon with whom discussions were held have expressed an interest in accessing the Internet using TCP/IP locally. It is reportedly possible to lease high-bandwidth TCP/IP lines from Intelcam, Cameroon's parastatal monopoly international telecommunications company. Intelcam reports they are presently in discussions with several major international telecommunications companies concerning a TCP/IP Internet link. In contrast to many national parastatal telecommunications monopolies, Intelcam appears to have adopted a quite liberal policy toward third-party resellers of telecommunications services, provided these resellers, including Internet service providers, pay fees to Intelcam.
Prices for leased 64kbps TCP/IP circuits have not been established by
Intelcam, though one senior official of Intelcam expects them to be
between $10,000 and $14,000 per month for resellers. A lower rate
soft terms) is expected for leased lines to enterprises that
will not be reselling services. In other words, prices to be imposed
by Intelcam are not expected to reflect Intelcam's costs, but
rather are to be fixed at a level that reflects uses and potential
revenues. In this sense, the prices are more like taxes. The
observation was made to Intelcam representatives that such a pricing
policy, with high prices/taxes for leased lines to be levied on
retailers of Internet services, creates a barrier to entry by any firm
with limited access to capital.
In general, smaller Cameroonian firms may find themselves at a disadvantage, leaving the market solely in the hands of larger multinational Internet service providers. One option for smaller local service providers to reduce the cost of entry into TCP/IP services is the sharing of a single line to a common router until such time as the size of the customer base warrants separate lines to each provider. A better solution might be for Intelcam to consider charging prices to all resellers of Internet services that more closely reflect Intelcam's costs of providing lines.
There was insufficient time to interview potential Internet retailers apart from those already operating at the Polytechnic. However, should Intelcam decide to rationalize its prices with respect to costs, and if it makes known its liberal position with respect to third-party reselling of Internet services, one may expect many small computer services firms, as well some of the larger multinational firms already operating in the region, to enter the market.
On the other hand, given its monopoly position in the telecommunications market, Intelcam may instead choose to pursue a pricing policy that effectively bars competition. Intelcam staff suggest an interest in Intelcam itself offering retail Internet services. So long as Intelcam delivers high quality service with effective technical support at a reasonable price to consumers, then any pressure on Intelcam to liberalize the Cameroon Internet services market will presumably abate.