Report – By Rachel Reeves on Rarotonga
The Cook Islands has until the end of the year to accept or reject an offer from New Zealand-based company Hawaiki Cable Ltd to connect to a fibre optic cable being installed from Hawai’i to Auckland and Sydney via numerous Pacific Islands.
In the works for about three years, the project has been unpublicised, but its designers are going public following the bankrupting of the Pacific Fibre project three weeks ago.
Pacific Fibre had hoped to build a cable between Auckland, Sydney and Los Angeles at a cost of about $400 million but on August 1 announced it had failed to raise enough capital.
“We can talk about it (the Hawaiki project) now because I’ve had time to see the leaders of Samoa and American Samoa, and the president of New Caledonia, who are all pushing very strongly for this,” Hawaiki’s Pacific Islands area manager Marc Collins told Cook Islands News yesterday.
“…Pacific Fibre went bankrupt three weeks ago so this is very recent and the opportunity right now for our project is quite unique – island leaders are a little bit frustrated, and they want to see a cable.”
He was prompted to go public after Cook Islands News published comments made by Samoa’s prime minister regarding discussions of a fibre optic cable at Saturday’s Polynesian Leaders Group meeting.
Proposal by 2014
Hawaiki is proposing a cable from California to Hawai’i to Auckland and Sydney, with connection points at Apia, Pago Pago, Norfolk Island, Noumea, Port Vila, Suva and Wallis and Futuna.
The company is also proposing connections to Tahiti and the Cook Islands, via additional branches.
The project will cost hundreds of millions of dollars (and additional branches will incur additional costs) and the estimated time of completion is late 2014.
This week he and chief technology officer Virginie Frouin are meeting with Pacific leaders and asking them to urgently consider whether or not they are interested in making a commitment to the project.
They have yet to meet with Prime Minister Henry Puna, but have officially requested a few minutes of his time. They have also put in official requests to meet with Hillary Clinton and
Collins says his company is promising a cheaper and more reliable option than O3b, which Telecom Cook Islands is proposing to introduce early next year.
He says fibre optic connectivity is “200 times cheaper per megabyte” than satellite.
Remote outer islands
He says, however, that the geographical scattering of the Cook Islands means that even if Rarotonga connects, some outer islands might still need to rely on satellite. The advantage of connecting Rarotonga to a cable, though, will be cheaper and faster broadband – a prerequisite for economic growth, Collins said.
Frouin was clear that Hawaiki intends to go ahead with the project whether or not it obtains support from all Pacific leaders.
“We don’t need all the islands to say yes to do this cable – we will not wait for every country to confirm. We will go ahead but by the end of the year we need an answer (in terms of ) who wants to (connect) and who doesn’t.”
Rachel Reeves is political reporter of the Cook Islands News.