Savai'i school WiFi takes off; shutdown threatened

Two Savai'i Primary Schools had reliable internet access for the first time this week, after connecting via a free WiFi project the Government had earlier reported failed to launch. 

But the access may not last long. One Principal reported Ministry staff have advised that the satellites which provide the internet would now be shut down. 

The Minister for Communication and Information, Rico Afamasaga Tupai, had earlier described the controversial “Free School WiFi Project” as “illegal” because it had not been properly registered with the Ministry or Government. 

The Samoa Observer asked Rico to confirm whether the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) intended to have staff "shut down the satellites".

The Minister replied saying: "I'm not aware of that, I need to find some information on that."

The project is led by a non-Government Organisation, but it is also mixed up with Samoa's newest opposition poltiical party: Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.).

It is implemented by a locally-owned telecommunication company, NetVo Samoa in partnership with Kacific Broadband Satellite Company. Kacific is providing satellite and Wi-Fi equipment for the project.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer on Thursday, the school Principal for Patamea Primary school, confirmed that the school was now connected to the internet following the installation of the satellites. 

"We [have] had a hard time connecting to educational websites," said A'ea Taua Tu'uau-Alatimu

"That was one of the issues we faced. However, when the School Committee told us that there will be satellites installed at our school so we can have access to free WiFi and [internet] connectivity, we were so happy. 

"The people who are in charge of the project came and installed the satellites and explained to us the project and we embraced their initiative. 

"So they tested it out with my laptop, and I was the only one connected. Ever since then, my internet connection has become fast and this week, they will open it for all the teachers and students."

Earlier this week, Rico said that the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) staff and Vodafone specialists had gone to schools in Savai'i after the project’s official launch on Monday. 

The Minister said the staff were there to "check" if the satellites.

"On Monday, when we found out (about the project), the Ministry of Education and Vodafone [...] ran out to all the schools where the equipment has been installed, especially at the Itu-o-Tane area, and none is working,” he said. 

"Yet they have launched it and say that it is working. 

"But right on the spot, the I.T. guys from [the Ministry] were calling and [saying] that they even talked to the Head Master and nothing was working. 

"They don't even know what the project is. But it was broadcast that it has been used."

But the Principal said she received a call from the School Inspector earlier this week, informing her that the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture would send internet specialists to shut down the satellites. 

"We were shocked," she told the Samoa Observer. 

"We had no say because it was the School Committee who agreed to this project by F.A.S.T. and to us, we don't know what's going to happen next."

While the school principal from Saleaula Primary School, confirmed that they now have access to the internet after the installation of satellites, she declined to comment further, saying it might affect her job. 

"I don't want to affiliate myself with all these politics," La'ala'ai Semau said. 

"I see that there are some controversial issues involved with this project, so I want to stay away from it."

The Chief Executive Officer for M.E.S.C., declined to comment when she was approached for confirmation regarding the comments from the Principals. 

Afamasaga Dr. Karoline Fuata'i also refused to confirm the claims made by NetVo Samoa that they approached the Ministry to enter into a partnership before the project’s rollout. 

At the launch of this project on Monday, the owner and founder of NetVo Samoa, Togisala Tony Leota claimed that they followed all the proper channels before rolling out their project. 

He also claimed that they approached Government ministries for partnerships, however their doors were closed. 

"We did go through the right channels," Togisala said.  

"It was well-documented but they doubted us and the project and did not think it was possible to [launch] such a project. 

"We did approach (the Ministries) and did all the [due] diligence as far as before rolling out the project. 

"We approached all the Ministries and went through all the proper channels to do, in order to implement this project. 

"When we [got] there, they closed the doors on us. 

"So who else do you turn to but family to implement this project? Because this project is to help our kids, schools, and communities. So we went through all the processes at this point. 

"So now we are here to implement and turn on and make sure it is utilised to its full capacity for children, schools, and for a better future and opportunities.”

But Rico rejected the claim saying the Government was yet to receive any application from NetVo about the project.

"The Government is yet to receive an application from NetVo and F.A.S.T. with regard to the new project in schools,” he said. 

"We have never seen an application, a formal application as per the Regulator, regulations. 

"Also, the Ministry of Education is yet to receive any consultation with them in terms of what the content is. As you may know, the content on Schoolnet as well as the SIM cards already loaded by Digicel and Vodafone and being used for free, are aligned with the curriculum of Samoa. 

"In all respects, they need to consult the Ministry of Education as well. But the Ministry of Education was unaware until [Monday],” he said.  

"So that's why we are disappointed to see that they have announced that the Government declined and denied their project but the Government is yet to see an application."

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