Less than six percent of all Africans living south of the Sahara use the Internet. But that's about to change, thanks to a 17,000 kilometer long network of fiber optic undersea cables connecting much of east and southern Africa with India and Europe.

Among those now connected are South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique. Plans are underway to add Ethiopia and Rwanda.

The company behind the new cable, Seacom, expects it to make connectivity in Africa faster, cheaper and more reliable.  Fiber optics will spark a digital revolution in Africa, says Africa technology expert Nil Quaynor. Technology increases ?the amount of information that can come in or go out?and [makes] the use of the Internet more pleasant for many people,? he says.

Dr. Quaynor, chairman of Network Computer Systems in Ghana and a professor of computer science at the University of Cape Coast. He's also the recent winner of the Internet Society's Jonathan B. Postal Service Award for his working advancing the Internet in Africa.

Some critics say the continent should focus first on basics, like water and sanitation. Quaynor disagrees.  He says the information on these issues can be sent faster and cheaper with the undersea cable rather than satellite.

New habits

For almost two decades Quaynor has pioneered Internet development and expansion throughout Africa. He says fiber optics will change the way the Internet is used because ?the lower costs and higher bandwidth and lower latency will improve services at cyber cafes, personal use as well as mobile access.?

But there will be no significant narrowing of the digital divide between urban Africa and rural Africa, he says, without improved infrastructure, ?like having a [pan-African] backbone? that links the cables across countries all over the continent.