Burundi invests $25 mln in high-speed Internet network

BUJUMBURA, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Burundi has officially launched its $25 million investment project in a fibre-optic cable network to widen access to broadband Internet and cut costs.

The landlocked central African nation of 8 million people has some of the slowest Internet speeds in the region after decades of internal conflicts choked economic development.

President Pierre Nkurunziza told a launch ceremony that the project, which is jointly owned by the government and four private firms, was part of a plan to ensure all citizens have access to the Internet by 2025.

World Bank research shows that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration can result in an extra 1.4 percentage points of annual economic growth.

Some 1,000 km of the 1,250 km fibre-optic cable has already been laid, covering nine out of the country’s 17 provinces, the project owners said on Tuesday.

The cable will be linked to undersea cables, connecting Africa to the rest of the world, at Kenya’s Mombasa port and the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam.

The firms, Ucom, Econet Wireless, Africell, Cbinet and the government-owned Onatel, expect download speeds to rise to 2 Gigabyte per second in the next five years from 135 Megabytes per second three years ago, they said.

Burundi had about 500,000 Internet users last May, including those using Internet on their mobile phones, said the country’s telecom regulator (ARCT).

Mobile phone usage has been growing rapidly with total subscribers rising 17 percent to 2.24 million in 2012, the latest available figures, from the previous year. (Reporting by Patrick Nduwimana; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Mark Potter)