The satellite proposal, keeping public expenditure in check

Last week the Government announced plans to engage the services of a satellite to provide “high speed low-cost” broadband to users in Samoa from next year.

Its intentions were confirmed, when the Office of the Regulator distributed a media release with pictures to the local media, for publishing and broadcasting to advise citizens of this new development in Samoa’s telecommunications industry. The pictures showed the telecommunications regulator, Lefaoali'i Unutoa Auelua-Fonoti, visiting the Boeing satellite factory in California, U.S.A. and taken around by staff to view the Kacific1 satellite. 

According to the media release, the satellite is “a next-generation satellite which will stream high-speed low-cost broadband to Samoa from 2020”.

Lefaoali'i added: “Availability, Affordability and Accessibility of telecom services in Samoa is one of our office’s important policy goals. Having Kacific provide more competition and high-speed services to Samoa is part of our role to improve connectivity and the economic development of our country.” 

The announcement by Lefaoali'i comes close to two years after the Government-owned company Samoa Submarine Cable Company Limited (SSCCL) and its partners announced the completion of work to install the Tui-Samoa submarine cable system. On December 26, 2017 the nations of Samoa, Fiji, and Wallis and Futuna became connected by a submarine optical fibre system, which spanned over 1470 kilometers and provided an advanced broadband highway for users. 

According to the telecommunications regulator, Kacific will complement the work of the SSCCL.

“Kacific services will complement the submarine cables and the terrestrial services that already exist in Samoa. This new satellite will support global communications, safety and emergency management and will enable us to achieve our objectives in new and innovative ways. For me to view and witness the making of this next generation high speed satellite is a blessing.” 

But the media release from the Office of the Regulator lacked critical information – which would have been necessary to enable the public in Samoa to understand and appreciate the rationale of the Government’s proposed plans – to use both a satellite and a submarine cable to access the internet. 

The Office of the Regulator did not say how much this new venture will cost the Government and ultimately the taxpayers. There was also no details released on the retail structure of the satellite broadband service in Samoa, and a sample of how affordable this service by Kacific will be when compared with the rates offered by local internet service providers Digicel, BlueSky and even the Government-owned Computer Services Limited.

We note the telecommunications regulator’s reference to “global communications, safety and emergency management” – which the Kacific satellite will make possible when its broadband service is introduced next year – upon the commissioning of the project. But what exactly does that entail? 

Has a feasibility study been done on the proposal to ascertain its success, the overall cost to the Government and taxpayers, and whether there will be a return on investment over a long-term period. 

Lefaoali'i gave background on the work of Kacific in the region including Samoa, where it is supplying satellite equipment and 12-months of free internet access for five schools, as part of the Pacific Satellite Connectivity Project. The project was a result of a meeting between the International Telecommunications Union and the Samoa Government in 2014 as part of the Small Island Developing States conference.

While we appreciate the good work Kacific has done courtesy of its free internet access to five Samoan schools, the key questions surrounding the proposal remains unanswered.

With the Government’s rising debt and public expenditure continuing to come under pressure from its various multimillion tala projects – which include the payment of bills to maintain essential services in critical sectors such as health – questions have to be asked on whether this is a project that needs public funding.

Increasing internet connectivity has its benefits in Samoa including spurring economic development as highlighted by Lefaoali'i in her office’s media release. But bringing in the satellite broadband internet service – less than two years after commissioning a submarine optical fibre system that cost the Government $7.8 million, and without properly justifying to the public why the satellite broadband proposal should be embraced – looks reckless and is a waste of public funding.

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless. 

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