The World Bank unveiled its $215 million Central African Backbone program on Tuesday, to bring reliable, high-speed, low-cost internet access to the region for the first time.

Despite being the fastest-growing telecoms market in the world, Africa's broadband growth has been hamstrung by costly international bandwidth and patchy national infrastructure, impeding development and deterring investors.

Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic will take part in the initial $26.2 million phase, the World Bank said.

Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, and Sudan can also participate in the program.

The 10-year program is being supported through a partnership between the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank.

Ultimately, our goal is to develop regional and national broadband backbones and significantly reduce the cost of ICT services in Central Africa, Mohsen Khalil, Director of Global Information and Communications Technologies at the World Bank Group, said in a statement.

In Africa, there are 10 undersea cables either under construction or in the planning stages, which could push down international bandwidth rates and increase the number of broadband users.

U.S.-based advisory firm AfricaNext Investment Research expects Africa's broadband market to grow more than fourfold in five years to 12.7 million users from 2.7 million in 2007.

This growth will be facilitated by new submarine cables and national networks due to launch this year and next, and the emergence of wireless technology such as EVDO and WiMax.

But Africa's fixed-line operators are already seeing a lot of customers moving to mobile networks due to lower prices and, according to telecoms advisory firm Delta Partners, this will propel mobile broadband to explode in the continent.

Currently, 1 gigabyte of international connectivity in Africa is $15-$30 depending on the country, Delta Partners said.

Separately on Tuesday, the International Telecommunication Union said mobile broadband penetration rates still low in many African countries and other developing nations.