Imagine no Internet
‘Second submarine cable needed now’
VANUATU urgently needs a second submarine fibre optic cable to guarantee our Internet does not fail.
Business leaders have told The Independent that the country is now totally dependent on internet access for all business.
Interchange boss Simon Fletcher agreed with the business leaders and said satellite internet is too expensive and too slow to be viable.
Interchange brought the first submarine cable ashore at Mele three years ago from Fiji and it has been a resounding success.
“It has been so successful that it even offset some of the business damage cause by Pam,’’ said Mr Fletcher.
“And it survived Pam at this end and Winston at the other end.
“It is still working perfectly, but on the law of averages at some stage there will be a breakdown and it would take about four weeks to repair.
“The first cable is for connectivity and the second is for security and that is what we need now... more security. It would take about two years to get a second cable in place.”
He said other Pacific nations like Papua New Guinea are now looking at installing a second submarine cable.
One senior Port Vila business leader said a second cable will cost millions of US dollars: “We can’t afford it, but we cannot afford not to have it,’’ he said.
“Our cable has proved to be robust, but imagine if it failed and businesses, airlines and resorts had no real internet for weeks – it would bring the country to its knees,” he said.
He said one of the key issues is that the existing telco companies are pressuring the government to lower the price of Internet access. And the Telecom Regulator is supporting them, despite their motives being purely commercial.
“Lowering the internet access price is a worthy goal if it is passed on to the consumer, but it would mean a lower income to the internet operators,’’ he said.
“That would translate into a much lesser ability to raise the necessary funds to set up a second cable.”
Mr Fletcher agreed and said ultimately lowering the price of internet access would be a loser for the majority in the long term.
“People have to realise that the existing Interchange cable is 75 per cent owned by the people... it is a successful ni-Vanuatu operation at present and a second cable will make it even more worthwhile for its ni-Vanuatu owners,’’ he said.
He said there are several alternatives that Interchange can consider for a second cable by having what are called branch units attached to new cables being laid in the Pacific.
“Once the cables are laid on the ocean floor it is too late to be connected, we must do it while a cable is in the process of being laid,’’ he said.
Mr Fletcher said that data centre and similar businesses that are heavily reliant on the internet will only consider setting up in countries that have two cables.
“And once they are established somewhere, they have no reason to move,” he said.
He and other business leaders said these type of businesses would be a shot in the arm for Vanuatu’s stagnant economy.
But another prominent business leader said lower prices now means less chance of obtaining a vital second cable.
“This is so short sighted. We are a small country and the cost of cable is the same whether it will serve a big or small population,” he said.
“If small populations want security of alternative access to the internet, then they have to pay more per user than a country with a big population.
“This is not rocket science. But the vested interests who are trying to force the prices down are delaying any chance of a second cable.
“A second cable is needed now. If we fail we only have ourselves to blame.”.