School WiFi project's fate uncertain

A project delivering free WiFi to 50 schools across Savai’i has been shut down and faces an uncertain future, the leader of the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa (F.A.S.T.) party, La'auli Leuatea Schmidt, says.

Last month, the project was implemented by the Netvo Samoa internet service provider in partnership with Kacific Broadband Satellite company and the Fa'atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) political party.

But speaking to the Samoa Observer, the former Speaker of the House and F.A.S.T. founder, La'auli said they are currently in discussions with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (M.C.I.T.) about the future of the project. 

The Minister of Communication and Information Technology (M.C.I.T.), Afamasaga Rico Tupa'i, declared the project “illegal” after its launch last month because it had not followed proper approval processes. 

But the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) cautiously lent its support to the WiFi project but say browsing security is their top concern.

On Wednesday, the Office of the Regulator said it was working with Netvo together on "resolving the issue".

The owner of Netvo, Togisala Tony Leota, was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

Late September, the Regulator confirmed launching an investigation into allegations that the free WiFi programme, rolled out in schools in Savai'i, did not undergo proper processes. 

But a Salega M.P., Olo Fiti Vaai, says politics must not be a factor in deciding the fate of the project. 

Olo said that the free WiFi project has been tested and its connectivity to educational websites for students has been tested and secured. 

Olo said he disagreed with the idea of the Government running the internet project. 

"My reasons? [For] five years they tried [installing] broadband: fail,” he said.

“The e-health [initiative]: fail; school net: fail, [the Samoan National Broadband Highway]: fail. 

“Everything they have tried, failed, and now they want [to takeover] the free wifi by Netvo, to fail [...] again?"

In a statement, M.E.S.C. Chief Executive Officer Afamasaga Dr. Karoline Afamasaga-Fuata’i said the ‘Free Wi-Fi for Schools’ project is a “great prospect” for schools across Samoa.

But since the project’s launch, concerns have been raised regarding the legality of the project and whether the nation’s Regulator should have been consulted. 

At its launch, the owner of Netvo, Togisala Tony Leota, and M.P. La'auli Leuatea Schmidt - and founder of F.A.S.T. - denied any wrongdoing in the protocols followed to establish the project. 

The partnership said they had gone through proper channels and had approached the Government prior to rolling out the project. 

Under the Free School Wi-Fi Connectivity Project students and teachers are able to access education and research sites including the Moodle online learning platform and M.E.S.C. materials, Togisala said.

The idea for a free educational WiFi network on the big island surfaced during the measles epidemic when Olo, Leatinu'u and former Speaker of the House in Samoa, La’auli Leuatea Polataivao Schmidt, said the Government did not have a backup connectivity plan in the event of an epidemic. 

The project also helps tackle the issue of the teacher shortage in the rural areas, said Olo.

"The fact that they have ceased the project is the direct opposite of the Prime Minister's constant memory verse from ten years ago of, what's good for Upolu is good for Savaii," he added.

"It's a misleading statement. Misleading the Savaii people, but what I'm happy about is that all the Savaii folks have come to realise these lies."

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