Google to invest $1bn to back Equiano cable to increase Africa’s Internet access

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Wednesday, 6 October 2021 18:05

Technology CEOS Zuckerberg of Facebook, Dorsey of Twitter and Pichai of Google testify before House Committee in Washington
Google CEO Sundar Pichai /Handout via Reuters

Google plans to invest $1bn over five years to support digital transformation in Africa, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, said today.

The investment “will support the continent’s digital transformation,” Pichai said in a pre-recorded video released by the company. Google will also invest $50m in black-led start-ups, support non-profit organisations, and wants to partner with African governments, policymakers and businesses, he said.

Out of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion, an estimated 780 million people do not have access to the Internet. US big tech companies like Google and Facebook are backing cabling projects designed to improve the quantity and speed of African Internet access. Facebook is backing the 37,000km 2Africa cable, which will connect the continent with Asia and Europe. The cable will be the longest subsea cable system in the world when completed, Facebook says.

Google’s investment will include the landing of the Equiano cable, which will enable faster internet speeds and lower connectivity costs. The cable will run from Portugal through Nigeria, Namibia, South Africa and St. Helena. The initial configuration of Equiano is scheduled to be ready in the second half of 2022, with extensions to be added later.

  • According to research from Africa Practice and Genesis Analytics, which was commissioned by Google, Internet speeds in Nigeria are expected to increase five-fold, and to almost triple in South Africa and Namibia by 2025, as a result of Equiano.
  • The research predicts that Internet prices will drop by between 16% and 21% in the three countries over the same period.
  • Improved speeds and lower prices are expected to increase internet penetration by more than 7 percentage points in Nigeria and South Africa, and 9 percentage points in Namibia.
  • Between 2022 and 2025, average year-on-year real economic growth is expected to increase by 0.57 points, 0.32 points and 0.56 points in Nigeria, South Africa and Namibia due to Equiano, the research says.
  • It is predicted that the cable will indirectly create 1.6 million jobs in Nigeria, 180,000 in South Africa and 21,000 in Namibia during that time.

Benefits questioned

Local operators have given subsea cables a mixed response. Open Cables CEO Sunil Tagare says existing African cable investments could be damaged by the Google and Facebook projects. He accuses the US big tech companies of having a divide and rule strategy with regard to local players.

Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, says free services offered by Google and Facebook could threaten the survival of local operators.

  • Adebayo argues that unlike local mobile network operators, Facebook and Google do not have tax obligations to the governments in countries where they operate.
  • He also says Nigeria has sufficient capacity from undersea cables on its shore regions, and a more pressing problem is the strengthening of the country’s fibre optic backbone to extend broadband access inland.
  • “If they should come with this service that is free end-to-end, it will be a significant threat to the survival of the mainstream operators,” Adebayo told Punch in 2020.
  • Google did not take questions at the announcement of the investment today.

Bottom Line

Google is concentrating on pre-packed PR rather than addressing concerns raised about the impact of Equiano.

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