Free school wifi project launched
Ten primary schools in Savai'i are now connected and accessing online lessons provided by the Ministry of Education, through a "Free school Wi-Fi project Connectivity" project, officially launched on Monday.
The community 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 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.
"The Free school Wi-Fi project is NetVo's social impact and rural community initiative," said Togisala Tony Leota, Chief Operations Officer (C.O.O.), NetVo Samoa/Founder of E3 Samoa Trust.
"NetVo's mission and vision are to help and give back to our people through connectivity, especially in these hard and uncertain times."
"It is NetVo's first social impact and rural community initiative which includes access to digital educational platforms that NetVo will be offering for free for all schools of Samoa - this will be implemented in the months to come."
The Wi-Fi social impact project goes back to the measles epidemic in November 2019, when La'auli sought help for his constituency's schools in Savai'i under lockdown as connectivity had always been a problem in this area, said Togisala.
"It was then discussions started with NetVo Samoa to find a solution to improve connectivity in underserved and remote communities in Samoa; the project was a perfect solution with the Covid-19 lockdown and the impact on student's classroom learning.
"F.A.S.T. got the agreement and clearance of the School Principals and Village School Committees in Savai'i and installation started in June this year.
"Under this Free School Wi-Fi Connectivity Project, internet access is free to students and teachers between 7:00am to 4:00pam Mondays to Fridays. The project supports online access for education and research purposes only and other sires are filtered.
"The project was tested during the recent Gagaifomauga No.3. by-election coverage where connectivity was again identified as an issue in that part of Savai'i island.
"The project will commence in Apolima, Manono, and Upolu islands when Savai'i is completed. The project focuses on providing connectivity to underserved and remote communities in areas of Samoa with little to no connectivity."
Prior to the official launch of this project, the Prime Minister, last week claimed that such a project is "illegal" saying the people in charge of the people did not go through the right process to implement the project.
"I am happy to see that they are helping out," said Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi.
"But the thing is, they can't install this wifis without consulting the Office of the Regulator, so they can come in and assess the work that they are doing. What if something goes wrong and it will burn down a school?"
Tuilaepa alleged that NetVo owes money to the Office of the Regulator and what they are doing in Savaii is illegal.
"It's illegal because they are installing these satellites without informing the office of the regulator to come in and monitor these things to make sure it is safe. What they should do is, step forward and owe up to their debt by asking the office of the regulator before the Regulator reaches for their pen.
"This is what happens when a politician comes in and tricks them into doing something that is illegal. That is one of their specialty."
However, Togisala cleared the air and denied the accusations by Tuilaepa, saying they went through the right channel before implementing such a project.
"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 do such a project.
"We did approach (the Ministries) and did all the 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 get 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. That is where we started with this project.
"This started off with La'auli's constituency, and then we thought if it's good for Sasina, why don't we do it for all of Samoa?
"This is a free rural initiative programme that NetVo is rolling out, but through it's NGO, to show people that it is absolutely free.
"NetVo doesn't make any money, the schools don't pay anything, the party F.A.S.T. pays anything. It's because we do it out of love for our people and for our kids. To make sure they have opportunities and connectivities, that is why E3 Samoa Trust was formed."
Asked whether E3 Samoa Trust or NetVo has any political affiliation with F.A.S.T. political party, Togisala replied saying, "No."
"There is no political affiliation with F.A.S.T.
"This is just a partnership with F.A.S.T. because we have the same vision and same mission, especially in times like this. Like the measles and COVID, truly to help our people.
"They help us with school Communities, the village chiefs."
Togisala did not reveal the total cost for the project saying it is "contractual."
However, he reiterated that they followed all the "right process" before rolling out their project.
"We approached these Ministries (M.E.S.C., M.W.C.S.D.) it's well-documented. We did presentations, but they simply just closed their doors and said, how can you, a Samoa company do it, when the other two big companies can't?
"That simply tells that they didn't believe in us, that they looked down on us.
"But our love for our people and giving back, we said, that's fine. We will continue on, at least we went through the proper channel, and asked for partnerships. All we asked for was partnerships, that's all we requested for. But they still closed their doors on us.
"So for us, this is the route we have taken, because we have the same vision and mission.
"The Officer of the Regulator has received documentation on (the project).
"People don't know the whole story, but we started off with satellites. We have experience and expertise in satellites. So this is nothing new to us."
La'auli says he is disappointed to see that the Prime Minister has accused the project of illegal.
He also did not welcome the claims that this project is a political doing, to lure voters ahead of the upcoming election.
"I need to stay out of politics when it comes to these projects," La'auli said.
"Enough of the dirty politics. Let's concentrate on delivering on the project as it is for the people.
"Whatever he (Tuilaepa) says, we don't want to answer him back, but we stay in our vision and our mission, and appreciate what NetVo has done.
"My only disappointment is the defamation of poor NetVo, that shouldn't have happened. He is the leader of this nation, he is supposed to support people like him (referring to the founder and owner of NetVo). They are sons of Samoa, who are willing to help.
"The project answers our prayers, and we have been fighting for this. What was the statement from the last meeting, it is on. They keep saying it is on.
"Again, I'll leave the politics to the politicians. This project started last year, this is just a coincidence. We are here to implement this project for the children of Samoa."
The schools in Savai'i who are already connected through this project include Patamea Primary, Tutaga Primary, Vaisala Primary, Sacred Hearts Safotu Primary, Safotu Primary, Sasina Primary, Saleaula Primary, Auala Primary, Itu Asau College, and Itu-o-Tane College.
More than 50 Primary, Colleges and Mission schools in Savai'i already have equipment installed and will be switched on and connected this week.
Attempts to get comments from the M.E.S.C., and Office of the Regulator for confirmations that they were approached for this project were unsuccessful.