Transmitting data through transparent fibers just thicker than a human hair, the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine optical fiber cable revolutionized Liberia’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. Landing off the shore of Liberia’s capital Monrovia in 2011, this 17,000 km cable which stretches from France to South Africa, marked Liberia’s introduction to high-speed Internet services. Providing connectivity to 24 countries, the arrival of the ACE also demonstrated a commitment to reduce the digital divide and democratize Internet access in Africa through secure, diverse, and resilient ICT infrastructure investments.

While the ACE optical fiber cable, made possible through a landmark agreement between a consortium of telecommunications companies and member countries, significantly increased Internet connectivity in Monrovia, the lack of optical fiber cables (OFCs) beyond the capital resulted in low connectivity in Liberia’s rural areas. Moreover, Liberia lacks a much-needed system of high-speed networks linked together with fiber-optic connections to establish what is formally known as a fiber backbone — a critical prerequisite to fully maximize the ACE cable’s reach and potential.

Since the ACE cable’s deployment, much work has been done to enhance competition and growth among Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to provide greater connectivity options to Liberian consumers. Under a revised technology license issued by the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) in 2015, the regulatory authority authorized wireless carriers to build their own OFC infrastructure. However, the lack of coherent regulatory frameworks to guide the deployment of optical fibers across Liberia and the lack of a concrete national fiber backbone, severely hampered connectivity efforts beyond Monrovia – exacerbating the digital divide.

Recognizing these connectivity challenges, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) deployed Digital Frontiers’ Promoting American Approaches to ICT Policy and Regulation (ProICT) activity. Funded under the Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership (DCCP) and managed by USAID’s implementing partner DAI, ProICT provides technical assistance and capacity-building through embedded experts to help developing country governments establish ICT policy and regulatory frameworks.