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Starlink's challenge in Africa: navigating regulations to unlock internet access

Tuesday, 26 March 2024 12:04
Starlink's challenge in Africa: navigating regulations to unlock internet access

(Ecofin Agency) - Accessing internet is now considered an essential need, just like electricity and clean water. Making it available and more accessible to a larger number of people should be a key development strategy for African nations.

The marketing of devices from the satellite Internet service provider Starlink is currently banned in several African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Senegal, and Mali. In these countries, where offerings have started to emerge, Elon Musk's company has not signed any agreements with the governments, which are thus ensuring compliance with their regulations. And on the other hand, the need to impose a ban  highlights the growing interest consumers have in this particular service and in satellite Internet in general.

This interest was further strengthened by incidents on March 14 involving several undersea fiber optic cables, leading to current disruptions in internet access in about ten countries in West, Central, and Southern Africa. Although Starlink is not accessible to the majority of the African population due to the relatively high cost of its subscription, the service remains attractive to individuals with a certain level of disposable income and many small and medium-sized businesses.

Starlink appeals to African consumers with its small equipment size, the ability to install the connection oneself, and the ability to connect from anywhere, even remote areas. For example, in Rwanda, the first month's subscription, which includes the monthly service fee, the purchase of equipment, and shipping, costs about 510,000 Rwandan francs ($396.3) for the standard residential package. In Nigeria, it's around 890,000 Naira ($631.4).

In Africa, even though the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) assesses mobile phone coverage at 90% in its "Measuring digital development Facts and Figures 2023" report, many countries still have areas with poor telecom coverage. Outside of urban areas, both coverage and service quality have been criticized by several telecom regulators who have issued multiple warnings.

Starlink, which offers a potential solution for quality Internet access desired by consumers, needs to comply with regulations in each country to deploy fully. In Ghana, where the service was declared illegal in December 2023, the National Communications Authority (NCA) recently announced that discussions are underway with the company to regularize its presence.

For other Internet service providers in Africa, the expressed interest in satellite Internet connectivity is a signal that should encourage them to offer more flexible services and more responsive customer service. There should also be more communication about the existing satellite Internet services, as telecom service communications have been dominated by mobile phone operators.



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ECOFIN AGENCY offers a selection of articles translated from AGENCE ECOFIN. Founded in 2011, Agence Ecofin is a leader in Francophone Pan-African economic news, particularly in West and Central Africa. The agency publishes daily news on nine African economic sectors: Public Management, Finance, ICT, Agribusiness, Energy, Mining, Transport & Logistics, Communication, and Training.

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