The African Union Commission and the East African Communications Organization are throwing their weight behind the project to create the East Africa Regional Internet Exchange Point, designed to route Internet traffic locally.

Internet traffic from within the East African region and the rest of Africa is routed via Europe, keeping the cost of networking high for local ISPs, who in turn pass costs down to clients. Routing through Europe is also blamed for slow Internet access that users in the region face at times.

The East Africa Regional Internet Exchange Point will have 11 member countries including Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania.

The African Union Commission believes the creation of the East Africa Regional Exchange Point will help bring down the cost of Internet services in the East African region and that it will result in faster Internet connectivity.

"The African Union Commission is building an ecosystem for ICT so that Africa relies less on the Western world," said Moctar Yedaly, head of the Information Society division of the African Union.

Several optic fibre cables -- including SEACOM, TEAMS and EASSY cables -- have been laid in the region. Private initiatives, including the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX), are also springing up in East Africa, with the aim of making it easier for networks in the region to interoperate. But Internet costs are still high. A regional exchange point in East Africa is seen as a solution to the problem.

The process of establishing an East African Internet Exchange Point was initiated by the East African Communications Organization, a regional organization responsible for the development of communications, four years ago. But funding from the African Union Commission is expected to help the project move more quickly. The commission, through its African Internet Exchange System (AXIS) project, has been giving finance support to member countries to help them establish Internet exchange points.

East Africa Regional Internet Exchange Point officials have not, however, offered a timeline for finishing the project.

The commission also has plans to establish a regional Internet exchange point in the Southern African region.

"With the growing need for communication between countries in the region, it is necessary to ensure that Internet traffic is maintained in the region," said Mwangi Michuki, the Internet Society's senior development manager for Africa and the Middle East.