The Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i sat down with the Sunday Samoan to highlight some of the plans for 2017. He told the Samoa Observer that this year is a big year for the Ministry, especially with their vision to improve telecommunications throughout the country. He spoke with Deidre Fanene about some of the plans:
Question: Tell us about the Tui Samoa Cable?
Answer: This year we have the Tui Samoa happening and we hope to land it. We are also talking with other cables because we can’t just rely on Tui Samoa. We can’t just rely on the route coming from Fiji because the question is what happens if something cuts off from that cable? What happens when all of a sudden something accidentally drops on the cable and then cuts the connectivity?
We need a restoration cable. So we are talking with Tahiti, Cook Islands and the government of New Zealand because they play a part in that Pacific Cable Project (PCP). Samoa wants to be a part of that too. This weekend we are going to Hawaii for the Pacific Telecommunication Meeting. We will talk to the Tahitians and all the stakeholders of this cable so we can be part of it because we need a plan in terms of connectivity and communication. We will still be having the satellite but as our last option because at the moment it’s very expensive in terms of connectivity and communication because of the cost of satellites.
Question: We also hear plans about digital television in Samoa. Can you elaborate?
Answer: Digital Television is the other big thing this year. We are planning and moving towards the launching of Digital Television for Samoa where we will migrate from the old system that we have now.
We are on the analogue system and we need to migrate to the digital system. It will be much more beneficial for us in terms of education and we will get a lot more. This will not wait until Tui Samoa but it will be around the same time because there’s a lot work that needs to be done to develop it.
It’s also something new around the Pacific as well and at the moment only parts of Fiji is testing this new development. We hope to cover the whole of Samoa when we start off at the end of 2017. So there will be a lot more available to us in terms of information availability when we finally have digital television. It will be will be very helpful and essential in terms of education and health.
Question: Can you comment about the progress of Broadband highway?
Answer: At the moment as we await the arrival of Tui Samoa Cable we want to put in place adequately our National Infrastructure of for the Broadband Highway. This will cover Samoa but we are trying to make sure that it will work to its full potential for ease of connectivity.
So the tender went out last year and we are waiting for the review and to finalize the award of the tender for the objective to manage, operate and grow.
The growth of our broadband will help bridge the digital divide in our country.
I mean there’s a lot of connectivity within town accessibility in terms of businesses and everyone that is connected around town but when we go out in the rural areas, its very limited. For businesses outside of Apia and Savai’i especially in terms of tourism there’s very little connectivity so we need to improve that connectivity right now before Tui Samoa Cable comes in.
Question: How are you going with setting up the Digital government system?
Answer: Part of the next five year plan is to se tup “Digital Government System” to connect all government ministries and all corporations.
It will make things much easier for everyone. Not only for government to assist with its development plans, its economy planning and everything else especially the very high demand utilities of the government like the S.W.A, E.P.C, Agriculture and all these big ones such as M.E.S.C. They all need to be connected to share the information so that when they are planning their own work within their own ministries they can just tap into the system and find out what the other guys are doing. For example, if it’s the E.P.C doing their plan, they can see the plan of S.W.A and what has already been laid out.
So it’s easy for E.P.C to plan knowing what S.W.A is also planning. It will happen when the infrastructure becomes available to them.
Question: What about the issue of using technology, especially the internet to improve the delivery of health and educational services?
Answer: Our goal is to try and use technology to solve the problem of shortage of teachers, doctors and that project is ongoing. We are also at the moment talking to several agencies in terms of developing innovation in this country. We’re looking at setting up innovation incubators and training programmes that will foster and empower our people to start developing things, to start creating apps that will be applicable to this country.
For example; like the development of farms, to develop an app that will keep people in touch with their cattle, simple stuff like that.
The idea is that they will know where the cows have gone to. If you are a coconut farmer, it will help you know how many coconuts you will have. So it’s simple stuff like that which will help in the development plan of our villages and country.
So we want to have some innovation centers that will develop and foster our people because we are smart people and all these will enhance the government’s development plan. We also want to use the availability of technology to increase the employment of our people. We are trying to bring in more businesses in terms of call centers, submarine business and its time for us to start developing this side.