Director of Urban, Social Development and Public Management of the Asian Development Bank, Ms Emma Veve delivers her presentation on Enhancing ICT in the Pacific: Becoming connected.
The high cost of internet services in the Pacific is hindering opportunities such as communication, access to education, government services, and business prospects.
This was the message by the Director of Urban, Social Development and Public Management of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Ms Emma Veve at the 2016 Pacific Update Conference at The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Laucala Campus on 19 July 2016.
As part of her presentation on ‘Enhancing ICT in the Pacific: Becoming connected’, Ms Veve talked about how to help Pacific people operate their business, conduct their relations with governments, and do day to day activities in the same way as in developed countries which have access to technology, and information.
“At the moment, somewhere between 10 and 30 per cent of Pacific Islanders actually access the internet,” Ms Veve noted.
She highlighted that it is the cost of internet services that is holding back the growth of internet access in the Pacific Islands.
“Certainly it is the cost of buying a mobile phone but that is coming down because of quite a lot of competition in that area, but the price of data services, the internet charges are still extremely high,” she said.
Ms Veve added that the average cost of internet services in the Pacific is at least seven times more than people pay in New Zealand.
There are a number of technologies, according to Ms Veve through which the Pacific can become connected, for instance, traditional satellite telecommunications, O3B which is a lower level satellite that offers cheaper services than traditional satellites, and fibre optic submarine cable
Ms Veve said that of ADB Pacific member countries there are seven that currently have fibre optic cable and six are using O3B.
Ms Veve further highlighted that apart from having the infrastructure; the right environment for the infrastructure to work properly is also very important.
“Having an open telecommunications regime, in which you have either real competition or a regulated market to simulate competition in the smallest countries is vital to hold down prices and offer choice. As is independent regulation whether it is of private operators or a sole government operator, to ensure that the price savings of cables are passed on to the consumers,” she added.
The governance structure of entities that manage the cable in the country is also important.
While talking about cable companies, Ms Veve highlighted that their role is to implement and operate the submarine cable in the country, to sell the internet bandwidth fairly to the retailers, and minimise the wholesale price while covering operating costs. This ensures that they are not just a profit centre for government or for its other owners.
“They are there to do what is needed to do to make the infrastructure work and to ensure that the benefits hit the pockets of the consumers,” she emphasised.
Some possible ways of enhancing ICT in the Pacific include; potential for countries to cooperate to build cables; do joint negotiations to connect to a passing privately owned cable; and potential in jointly negotiating O3B access. This, according to the Director is a potential area for savings.
“We are also doing a lot to encourage the use of internet for development purposes once it is put in place. We are looking at ways to connect communities, in Samoa we helped develop community centres at schools where children could use the computers during daytime and the community outside school hours. We are doing a pilot project for ICT in education in the Solomon Islands which will. In the health sector we are supporting the development fo health information management systems in Papaua New Ginea and Samoa, and are piloting diabetes moitoring activities via mobile phones for pregnant and post-natal women in Tonga. The ways ICT can be used to practically enhance public service delivery seem unlimited.” Ms Veve highlighted.
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