Free school WiFi project "illegal": Minister
The Minister of Communication and Information Technology (M.C.I.T.), says locally-owned telecommunications company, NetVo Samoa, has acted illegally in rolling out free WiFi to schools.
Afamasaga Rico Tupa'i said on Tuesday, the day after the project's official launch, that the project had not followed proper processes.
"The project is illegal," Afamasaga told the Samoa Observer.
The Free School Wifi project is spearheaded by a Non-Governmental Organisation, E3 Samoa Trust in partnership with the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) political party.
It is implemented by NetVo Samoa in partnership with the Kacific Broadband Satellite Company.
Kacific is providing satellite and Wi-Fi equipment for the project; it was officially launched on Monday this week.
At the launch, the owner of Netvo, Togisala Tony Leota, and Chairman of F.A.S.T., La'auliealemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt claimed that they have followed "the proper channels” and approached the Government before rolling out their project.
However, Afamasaga flatly denied these reports.
While Afamasaga praised the initiative’s aim of helping the children of Samoa, he strongly believes that the people in charge of the project "should follow the right processes."
"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, those 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 yesterday (Monday).
"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."
Looking ahead, Afamasaga said they are interested in bringing the project on board, considering its potential benefits.
"We think that it may be a good project for the benefit of students and the whole country,” the Minister said.
"What we'll do is, slowly bring them in and get them to comply with the law, and follow the processes."
However, if NetVo and F.A.S.T. do not cooperate, the Government will have to "shut them down," according to Afamasaga.
"We will eventually get to the part where if they don't comply, we will have to issue an order to shut them down.
"But we don't want to get there, we don't want to do that.
"They need to provide whatever information that is required by the Ministry and the Regulator, they need to bring it in and fill out all the corresponding forms, and pay the fees if there is any fee that is needed to be paid."
Afamasaga said that any company that comes into Samoa needs to comply with the laws of Samoa and follow the right processes.
"Whether it's a good project or not, that is a decision that needs to be made by the government, once everything is in,” he said.
"Any companies that come into Samoa, need to follow the laws of Samoa, laws of the land. So they need to follow the right processes."
He also confirmed that all SchoolNet projects by the government are up and running well for the schools in Samoa.
"I want to emphasise that all the areas where they are putting the project, are all covered now by Digicel and Vodafone 4G,” the Minister said.
"So if they are talking about free wifi, free educational resources, it has been done. Free SIM cards were given to the students during the measles and during the COVID lockdown, and it's for free.
"All the University websites and all the lessons on those SIM cards are free. Unless the students decide to use Facebook or Tik Tok then you pay.
"It's important that they bring in their application and if there is a fee that needs to be paid, then they should pay the fee because that is the gateway.
"That's the gateway for them to go out openly for their project without any monitoring by the Government."