CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Potential investors including Internet giant Google will decide before year-end whether to proceed with a $1.5 billion undersea cable linking the BRICS group of emerging economies to each other and the U.S., a senior official in the project said on Monday.
The 34,000 km cable, which would be the first of its kind to link Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is expected to come online by the end of 2014, said Andrew Mthembu, chairman of technology group i3 Africa which is promoting the project.
"I'm hoping within the coming six months we will all be in a position to get all the consortium members into some sort of agreement, and then from there it's then a 24 month period for manufacture and installation," he said on the sidelines of a telecommunications conference.
The cable, first proposed in May last year, would also connect with existing undersea cables, opening access to 21 African countries, Mthembu said.
Africa is currently connected to Europe, North America and Asia through nine undersea cables, with five more submarine links planned by 2014, South Africa's communication minister Dina Pule told the conference.
"All of these cable connections should help improve the connection to our new trade partners, reduce the cost to communicate and improve the quality of the Internet services," she said.
Although Internet penetration in Africa has grown to 12.8 percent in 2010 from 2.4 percent in 2006, four-fifths of the continent's one billion population still has no access to it, officials said.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by M.D. Golan)