Efforts by the Internet Society to interconnect Africa received a major boost this week from the African Union and the European Internet Exchange Association, to establish new exchanges and support existing ones, respectively.

During the Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum attended by representatives from 33 African countries, the African Union and ISOC announced a partnership to support the establishment of exchange points in 30 countries that have none. The project will run for three years and ISOC will work with local IT communities to provide training and interest in setting up the IXPs.

The African Union estimates that African countries spend US$600 million every year in transit costs for content that goes from one African country to another. London, Amsterdam and Sweden are the main Internet exchange hubs that carry African content.

"There is no doubt that interconnection between African countries will lower costs and enable other services like e-health where doctors can collaborate in real time. Cost of connectivity will also go lower," said Moctar Yedaly, head of posts and telecommunications division at the AU.

ISOC has supported development of African IXPs in the past three years through the annual peering forum where content providers, ISPs (Internet service providers), regulators, and transit and infrastructure providers meet to discuss ways to lower interconnection costs.

"Our role is to reduce technical barriers, raise awareness, offer training and working with AU to ensure a business case for IXPs to thrive in Africa. Currently, less than 1 percent of traffic is exchanged locally. We want to reverse this and raise it to 70 percent of the capacity to be local," said Dawit Bekele, regional bureau director for Africa, ISOC.

At the same forum, the European Association of IXPs announced a project that will allow African IXPs to pair up with European IXPs and benefit from training and technical support. Netnod in Sweden, Amsterdam IX in Holland and De-Cix in Germany are the European IXPs pairing up with IXPs in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique.

"Since 2005, Euro-IX has invited IXPs outside of Europe to join the association. The idea is to help further development, improve and strengthen IXP community in Africa," said Bijal Sanghani, head of Euro-IX secretariat.

The project will allow the IXPs in Europe and Africa to directly share training and technical challenges, and African IXPs will have a chance to participate at Euro-IX meetings.