Who are the target audience that will benefit from this initiative?
We are focused on enabling affordable international connectivity to frontier, emerging, and developing markets, starting with the nations along the west coast of Africa. By reducing the cost of supplying Internet access and enabling competition, we expect our efforts to disproportionately benefit the poor, the aged, rural communities, and other less commercially viable populations.
How does the initiative provide unconnected people affordable access to the full diversity of the open Internet?
Many existing solutions for affordable Internet today involve subsidies or grants that often come with conditions restricting access to only a portion of the Internet. Instead, we focus on reducing or eliminating upstream costs, rather than providing subsidies, by offering competition without a strong profit motive to the existing monopoly or duopoly international operators providing service to these countries. This enables us to provide a sustainable solution to lower connectivity costs without ongoing subsidies or the corresponding restrictions on access. We are committed to offering networks unfettered access to the Internet.
How might this initiative be scaled?
Because our team has built infrastructure at scale in the past, we have a gravitational pull toward scale in our solutions. We know that, with vast commercial, cultural, and political differences between countries, any solution designed for one country may or may not work for other countries, even bordering countries. Undoubtedly, there is important work to be done to provide better connectivity within countries, but this work will require substantial funding and teams on the ground in each country… and solutions don’t scale beyond a single country.
Instead, we are focusing on what our experience has taught us to be the easier solution: lowering the cost and improving the availability of international bandwidth. Each carrier and ISP in a country has to reach the Internet somehow. If we can provide more capacity at lower prices to those carriers and ISPs, we reduce their cost of doing business and enable them to expand into areas that are commercially borderline, and, by leveling the playing field, offer the potential of increased competition.
Plus, if we are acquiring/building new submarine cable infrastructure in West Africa, the cost for supporting a single country like Liberia is not materially higher than supporting the entire region.
In what ways will the initiative provide a positive and enduring experience for its users?
It is unnecessary to explain how having fast, unfettered Internet access will provide a positive and enduring experience for users. For those who have never had Internet access, an entire new world will be at their fingertips; for those who couldn’t afford Internet, they will now be able to access this utility for the first time. International bandwidth costs via satellite are $3,000/Mbps while submarine costs in Liberia are $1,000/Mbps and even Kenya, a competitive market, is still $30-100/Mbps compared to Western Europe at $0.25/Mbps. By comparison, we believe we can bring costs down to $1/Mbps globally.
What benefits does the initiative bring compared to those currently available?
Today, most emerging and frontier markets connect to the Internet via one or two submarine cables owned by incumbent carriers or, even worse, owned by a consortium of incumbent carriers. These carriers are motivated to obtain the best possible return on their investment and, therefore, work to determine the price point that will maximize profit for minimum investment. By adding competition, providing capacity on a cost plus basis, optimizing the cost structure of the cable, and increasing competition, we believe we can make it so that the poorest countries no longer pay the highest prices for access to the Internet.
When will the initiative be brought to market?
The initiative depends on initial conceptual work, but also on securing funding for acquisition and construction of infrastructure in each region; the timing of implementation is therefore dependent on our ability to obtain supplemental funding. Once funded, our initiative is tailored to each region. For those regions where it makes sense to implement bulk purchases on existing submarine cables or of terrestrial fiber, the solution may be effected within 6-9 months. For those regions where it is necessary to construct infrastructure from scratch, the implementation will be completed in 24-30 months from full funding.
How will the initiative work from a technical and business perspective?
The solution is technically feasible as submarine cables and terrestrial infrastructure exist all over the world today. We are instead working with a different commercial model where capacity is deployed with the goal of improving connectivity rather than maximizing profit.
To that end, we plan to build infrastructure and sell capacity on a cost plus basis rather than focusing on profit. Grants may initially fund the capacity purchases and construction, but ongoing maintenance, overhead, and, to the extent possible, expansion and growth will be funded from the purchase of cost plus capacity by network operators in country.
How will funding for this initiative be used?
Initial funding will provide the seed funding for us to finalize the conceptual designs for one or more submarine cables, to assist in fundraising for acquisition and/or construction of infrastructure, and to move this project toward an implementation stage. Specifically, the funds would pay for the time, travel, and other expenses involved in gathering interest from customers and from potential sources of funding; enabling Umoya to continue to attend key conferences and industry events; and enabling us to finalize the technical design and commercial model for implementation of at least one submarine cable investment with terrestrial extensions as appropriate.
We believe there is significant interest in finding a solution for capacity in West Africa. We can also help shape the industry through a strategic investment in East Africa. We also see specific opportunities in Latin America and the South Pacific. But we need funding to chase down these opportunities, determine the most viable region(s), identify funding sources, and start moving toward implementation of one or more solutions. We believe we can transform the economics of Internet access so those with the least ability to pay no longer pay the highest prices.
Who is working on this initiative?
Why will this be an effective team for this initiative?
In addition to James’s experience building networks across Africa (and globally), Ariane’s experience developing submarine cables globally, David’s experience deploying terrestrial fiber in North America and Europe, and Erikas’ leadership building out low cost, high capacity network infrastructure around the world, we have been working together at Zenzu, a boutique consulting/advisory firm specializing in Internet infrastructure. Instead of continuing to assist for-profit companies and investors make more money, we want to give back by applying our experience to the challenging problems that others simply aren’t solving due to lack of motivation, experience, or profit motive.