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SEACOM Expectations Won't Always Match Reality, Warns Expert

Africa's new fiber optic cable, SEACOM, brings many benefits to the continent. But one expert warns not to expect too much, too soon.

Internet technology expert Arthur Goldstuck advises Africa's Internet hopefuls to be realistic about what SEACOM has to offer – at least in the near future.

"The main thing we have to be careful of is over optimism that it's going to deliver results sooner rather than later. And that the impact will be far more dramatic than it really will be," he says.

Goldstuck is the head of World Wide Worx, an independent South African technology market research firm.

"At this stage, there's great expectation that prices will come down overnight and that speed and quality of access will be improved immediately," he says.

"Nothing can be further from the truth," he says. "It takes so long for the impact of the quality of the cable to reach the existing subscribers. And it will take equally long for the cost to come down substantially."

How long?

He says the price of Internet access may drop 20 to 30 percent over the next six months to a year. Within four years, the price could be just half of what it is now.

"There are two components to Internet access.... And that's the access cost itself, which is the cost of the equipment needed to connect, and then your connection or your subscription to the service provider…. Added as a separate cost is the data that you are entitled to download," he says.

SEACOM will result in many new and inexperienced Internet users. Goldstuck warns they may be prime candidates for scam artists.

"So people just have to be very careful what they receive in their e-mail or what they come across on the Internet. And just be aware that, generally speaking, if it seems too good to be true…then it is too good to be true," he says.


Also, not everybody gaining access to the Internet through SEACOM will be doing research, downloading music or e-mailing friends. Many will seek other forms of entertainment.

"It's a fairly well-known expectation that a lot of the new users coming on board are going to go for porn (pornography). And porn sites are also notorious for malware or viruses that are accidentally downloaded from those sites," he says.

Malware, spyware and viruses can not only damage a computer, even crippling it beyond repair, but they can also steal your personal information and send it to scam artists. There are programs available to protect computers and these are now considered essential. However, this, too, will add to the cost of internet access.

Goldstuck does say the new fiber optic cable could be a boost to businesses, opening markets throughout the continent. He also expects Internet cafes to prosper and predicts a steady growth of original African content on the web.