The World Bank has given the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over US$92 million to connect to regional and global fiber optic networks through neighboring countries.

The project is under the aegis of the Central African Backbone Program, which will cost the World Bank a total of more than $215 million. The project is aimed at helping the Central African region develop a high-speed telecommunications backbone infrastructure and increase availability of high-speed Internet in order to reduce end user prices.

About $98 million of the total project cost is expected to be sourced from the private sector by the bank through the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The bank, which is the major funder of ICT projects in Africa, expects the Central African Backbone program to bring much- needed connectivity to Central African countries. Currently, Central Africa has the lowest quality and highest cost Internet and telecom services in Africa, according to the World Bank.

Communication problems in Central Africa have mainly been caused by lack of investment in the telecom sector by foreign mobile operators, after years of civil wars that have killed millions of people and destroyed communications infrastructure.

The bank says the population there pays up to two times more in monthly internet rates than people living in other African countries, and up to three times more than those living in other parts of the world.

The financing to the DRC will support the construction of missing links in the national fiber network in order to connect the country's most populated, but remote, economic clusters of the Kinshasa, Goma and Lubumbashi areas.

By linking the three areas, the new network is expected to provide local and foreign telecom operators the opportunity to offer competitive and continuous services nationwide on a shared infrastructure network that would be too expensive for individual operators to finance alone. India's Bharti Airtel and South Africa's Vodacom are among the foreign telecom operators in DRC and the region.

The Central African backbone program will also help countries in the Central African region harmonize laws and regulations that govern the ICT sector in order to increase private sector investment and improve competition, the World Bank said.

The program involves more than 11 countries that include including Niger, Chad Central African Republic, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

"The project would not only establish communication links connecting the east of DRC to Kinshasa, but also increase DRC's connectivity to the other Great Lakes countries," said Colin Bruce, the World Bank director for regional integrations for Africa.

A new report by research firm Frost and Sullivan has said the underdeveloped mobile communications market in DRC is set to expand substantially in the next three to five years, mainly driven by growing infrastructure development.