By Gary Hatigeva
WORK on the Undersea Cable Project linking Papua New Guinea to Solomon Islands and Australia is expected to start in the middle of this year, 2018. This was revealed in the government’s Policy Priorities, Strategic Actions and Outcomes document.
The Undersea Cable Project will be co-funded by the Government of Australia after a thorough meeting between the two governments in Canberra November last year.
Under its Summary of Strategic Action Priority, the Solomon Islands Democratic Coalition for Change Government (SIDCCG) with the intention to promote sustainable economic development has earmarked an estimate of $15 Million for a number of areas. This includes the Undersea Cable Project, SIBC Support, Solomon Islands Postal Corporation, the Solomon Islands Airport Management Company (CEMA) and a few others.
Based on the government Strategic Action Priority document, the Undersea Cable Project is also high on its agenda. This is expected to draw out at least half of the estimated $15 million allocation from its 2018 Budget once it is passed by Parliament.
On the other hand, the Australian government has selected Vocus, an Australian telecom company, to conduct initial stages of the new undersea cable project in the South Pacific that will connect the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea with Australia.
Earlier, the Department of Foreign Affairs signed a $2.8 million deal with the Australian telco company in December last year to conduct a scoping study for the design, construction and procurement of the submarine cable system.
The project according to both governments and the company will connect the major islands of the Solomon’s and PNG with Australia over 4000 kilometre fibre optic cable, replacing each country’s reliance on what experts described as old, unstable and expensive technologies.
As a follow up, a meeting was called and a delegation from the Solomon Islands government led by the Minister for Communication and Aviation, Peter Shanel Agovaka travelled to Australia last week at the invitation of the Australian Government.
The meeting also included a delegation from the PNG government who was briefed on the various options in rolling out the undersea cable from Australia and the proposed timelines for future meetings that will continue to monitor and look at the details of the project.
Both delegations were also briefed on Australia’s internet policies, communication market, legislation, legal regimes for landing and operating and protecting submarine cable and processes of obtaining permits.
The Solomon Islands currently has its telco needs wholly served by satellite, while PNG uses a low capacity cable that is nearing its life’s end.
Meanwhile, a statement from Vocus revealed that on the project, a study is currently being carried out. The study is expected to last three months including consultations with the governments of PNG and Solomon Islands before work can start.
The cable project, which originally covered only Solomon Islands, was planned to be constructed by Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, but that deal came up against stiff opposition from the Australian government.
Following levels of talks between the for Democratic Coalition for Change Government (DCCG) and the Chinese company, reports from the Australian Media revealed that Canberra was showing great concerns about Huawei’s alleged links to the Chinese government and were also worried about the possibility of a backdoor into Australia’s telecommunications network system.
It is still unclear what levels of talks and agreements have been reached between the Solomon Islands government then and Huawei, but the Rick Hou led SIDCC Government is keen to have the project started, as far as promoting sustainable development for the country is concerned.