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Monday, 06 October 2008 16:04

Samoans one step closer to broadband

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The Government of American Samoa has endorsed the funding for a submarine cable network that will give it, and Samoa, a submarine fibre connection to the rest of the world, at a bargain basement price.

The new link will provide around 280,000 people on the two Samoas (65,000 in American Samoa and 215,000 in Samoa) with a total Internet access capacity of 1Gbps - a huge improvement on the 20Mbps via satellite presently available; and the cost per MB per month will fall from around $US4000 to $US1500.

The planned cable system will connect Samoa to American Samoa and then to Hawaii where it will connect to global submarine networks. It will be created by retrieving the now defunct PacRim East cable that connects New Zealand to Hawaii, reconnecting it into American Samoa and relaying a section of it between the two Samoas. PacRim East has been made redundant by the much greater capacity available on Southern Cross.

The cables are of huge significance to the two Samoas. The governor of American Samoa, Togiola Tulafono, said in May that it was "the most significant economic development project for American Samoa in the last several decades."

He said the additional capacity would allow development of industries, tele-medicine and distant learning, previously limited by the cost and availability of satellite capacity. According to Tulafono, "With this new initiative, we will move from a labour intensive manufacturing industry into a technology-driven industry."

However the Democrat governor - who will be up for re-election at the same time as the US presidential election in November - has been facing opposition from Republican members of the Fono, the legislative assembly, and needed to get the final $US3m of American Samoa's $US9 million contribution to the project approved in the FY2009 budget ahead of the start of the financial year, October 1.

House Budget and Appropriations Committee chair. Republican Laolagi Vaeao. had accused the administration of failing to submit information requested by the house on a number of issues, including the fibre optic cable project. However at the eleventh hour problems were resolved and the $US3.0m allocation made it into the budget.
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Pre-sales of capacity on the cables already exceed the satellite capacity currently available. American Samoan telcos have purchased four DS3s (180Mbps) and those in Samoa two DS3, giving a total of 270Mbps. At present total capacity into each of the Samoas is less than one DS3 (45Mbps).

The project is expected to cost around $US20 million, 20 percent of the cost of completely new system (estimated to be at least $US100m to connect American Samoa to Hawaii and another $10m to connect in Samoa.

It mirrors a re-use in 2007 of the PacRim West cable to provide a fibre optic link between Sydney and Port Moresby. About 2000kms of the PacRim West cable which ran between Australia and Guam was re-laid between Sydney and PNG. At the time PNG relied on satellite and a 1Mbps co-axial cable, the world's then oldest still in operation.

Substantial progress has already been made on the American Samoa-Hawaii (ASH) cable and the Samoa-American Samoa (SAS) cable. The deepwater marine survey has been completed and terminal equipment delivered to Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa in preparation for the planned landfall there. From Pago Pago another section of the cable will be run 150km on the seabed to Apia in Samoa.

Recovery and re-laying of the cable is expected to start in late December when seas are calmer. Alcatel-Lucent has been awarded a contract to undertake the project. It is expected to be completed and the cable ready for service by March 2009.

According to the CIA's World Fact Book, the private sector of the economy of American Samoa is heavily dependent on tuna fishing and tuna processing, with canned tuna the primary export and attempts by the government to develop a larger and broader economy have been restrained by Samoa's remote location, its limited transportation and its devastating hurricanes.

However it says that tourism is a promising developing sector. With low latency submarine cable connectivity, American Samoa has the potential to be a very acceptable offshore call centre location for American companies. This is not possible with satellite links where the delay limits the effectiveness of a remote call centre.

Of Samoa, the CIA says that the economy has traditionally been dependent on development aid, family remittances from overseas, agriculture, and fishing. Agriculture employs two-thirds of the labour force and furnishes 90 percent of exports, primarily coconut cream, coconut oil and copra whilst the manufacturing sector mainly processes agricultural products.

One factory in the Foreign Trade Zone employs 3,000 people to make automobile electrical harnesses for an assembly plant in Australia and tourism is an expanding sector, accounting for 25 percent of GDP; 116,000 tourists visited the islands in 2006.

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