The Manatua Cable and growing the digital economy

On Monday this week, Samoa government leaders gathered at Moata’a to officially mark the landing of the Manatua Cable in Samoa.

The occasion on Monday was not lost on the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa, Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupai and other government as well as representatives of BlueSky Samoa Ltd, Digicel Samoa, Samoa Submarine Cable Company (SSCC) and Moata’a village leaders.

The Prime Minister was upbeat about the prospects of the Manatua Cable and the flow-on benefits to the people of Samoa in his opening address.

“[The cable] will strengthen our cultural connections, drive economic development and employment and create the foundation for the digital transformation of all our countries,” he said.

The Manatua Cable will stretch 3,700 kilometres, and connect fibre to Niue and the Cook Islands (Rarotonga and Aitutaki) for the first time, as well as Tahiti and Bora Bora in French Polynesia. 

Samoa is currently served by the Tui Samoa Cable, and the Manatua Cable will be a much needed back up, should the primary cable be damaged in any way. 

But in this day and age of clashing government priorities and increasing calls for public expenditure to be reined in, critics have already taken to social media to question the rationale behind government support for the project.

It is within the rights of members of the public to question the rationale behind the government’s support for another submarine cable, just over two years after the landing of the Tui-Samoa Cable at Moata’a with the subsequent laying of 1,500 kilometers of cable laying which connected Samoa with Fiji and Wallis and Futuna.

But the benefits that will come with increasing broadband connectivity are immense for Samoa and its 200,000 people. 

A 56-page February 2014 report by Deloitte on the benefits of expanding internet access in developing economies was commissioned by U.S. social media giant Facebook. Appropriately titled “Value of Connectivity Economic and social benefits of expanding internet access”, it argued that increasing accessibility opened the door to economic growth.

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“In developing countries where agriculture represents on average 40 per cent of economic activity, mobile telephony and the internet enable access to market pricing information, weather forecasts, disease control information and livestock tracking,” states the Deloitte report. 

“Small-scale farmers can access this type of information and markets directly, instead of through costly intermediaries.”

Another report by the World Bank published in 2016 titled “Enabling Digital Development - How the internet promotes development”, proposes that the internet enables small to medium-sized enterprises to overcome hurdles and offer them e-commerce platforms to enable them to enter the market at minimal cost and secure customers. 

“Rural artisans in Morocco, some of whom are illiterate, have set up Anou, a web shop for their products that has attracted customers from all over the world. The internet, by vastly lowering search and information costs, creates these markets,” states the World Bank report.

“This has many benefits, but the most important, arguably, is that it fosters inclusion—in new and existing markets, in social interaction, or in government service delivery systems.”

Therefore, an increase in internet connectivity for Samoa should translate to more direct and indirect benefits to Samoa’s local economy, as envisaged by the Prime Minister. These include a drop in the cost of internet accessibility.

The Digicel Samoa CEO, Farid Mohammed, confirmed the drop in internet prices in July this year, following the signing of a 15-year indefeasible rights of use agreement for the SSCC-run Tui Samoa Cable.

“Since the launch of the Tui Samoa Cable last year, data price per G.B. has dropped by around 80 percent and usage per customer has seen a whopping increase, almost six times more over the same period,” he said after the signing.

“Customers can now access high speed internet on their smartphones. At a click, they have the entertainment world on their device in their hand.”

And let us not forget an incident early this year, when Tonga’s only undersea cable was severed, cutting off telecommunications between the island kingdom and the outside world. The Apia-based cable ship Reliance was dispatched to fix the broken cable, restoring communication to Tonga a month later and incurring a US$200,000 ($WT520,000) repair bill

It pays to always have a backup for digital infrastructure such as the Tui Samoa Cable, which will over time become critical to Samoa’s economy, as more citizens become literate and look to harness the potential of digital technologies.

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless. 

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