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Tonga’s most northerly island connects to high-speed internet

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9th January, 2018 Last December, residents of the secluded island of Niuafo’ou connected to the World Wide Web via a new established high-speed internet connection.

The residents of Niuafo’ou have lived without internet for over a year, as the first internet connection established in the island was short-lived.

A key person behind the establishment of the internet connection is Chief Engineer Mr. Keith Waldron Moala of the Department of Communications under the Ministry of MEIDECC.

“Imagine if you live in a remote island that doesn’t have any internet or any other form of entertainment such as radio and television. Niuafo’ou is located 600 kilometres north of Tongatapu and connecting to the outside world through a high-speed internet connection is a milestone for Tonga,” he said.

Liaising with stakeholders to establish internet connection in Niuafo’ou

“My trip to Niuafo’ou was prompted by the need to install a VSAT that was donated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). We managed to test the equipment here at Vaololoa and we found out that there was an issue with the modem. Instantly, we knew that the equipment will not work in Niuafo’ou. But the VSAT was needed to be installed while we liaise with local service providers to solve the issue, so I volunteered to go and install it.”

Moala was determined to explore other options that can help the residents of Niuafo’ou connect to the internet.

“I then approached one of the communications service providers and one of them offered a satellite disc for free through collaboration with Kacific Broadband Satellites, a broadband satellite operator company. They even paid for the shipping fee of the equipment to the island, which we are very grateful for.”

Moala said that after testing the equipment he was confident that it will function in the remote island. He then contacted one of the local FM stations 87.5 and they gave him radio equipment to be installed in the island as well which will enable the residents to listen to the FM station from Niuafo’ou.

“Digicel also contributed cable tv decoders to be set up in the island as well.”

Trip to Niuafo’ou

It takes about two days and a half to travel from Tongatapu to Niuafo’ou by ferry. The boat and airplane only goes there once a month. But the plane can only land in good weather on the grass airfield.

“The ferry can only dock when the weather is not foul but usually the passengers and cargoes are offloaded from the ferry to a smaller boat and from there to the dock. It is a hard life but the residents are happy with their life in the island.”

Connecting to the high-speed internet – Free of charge

The satellite broadband service was set up in the government’s office in the village of ‘Esia, operated by a portable generator that is powered by fuel.

“The residents were happy after the internet service was up and running especially when it’s free but they have to be within the Wi-Fi range.”

“It’s a very fast internet because we are talking about 20 megabit per second (20mbps). This internet speed is faster than most of the broadband connection in many homes around Tongatapu.”

Moala revealed that nearly half of Niuafo’ou’s population now access the internet.

“Those who can access the internet are mainly the youth and high school students who have smart phones. Most of the youths are part of the RSE scheme in New Zealand and Australia so they are familiar with the internet.”

He said that most of the older generation are not aware of the internet. But with the service operating there now, it can help them to understand that the internet is a source of information where they can learn new things and can also use to contact their relatives abroad.

Despite the fast internet connection, like everything else there is always a drawback according to Moala.

“The main challenge is the power. Because the internet connection is powered by a generator, fuel is the setback. So we decided that the internet should run for a certain time, from 9am to 4pm and then we turn it off.”

Moala also set-up 87.5 FM radio equipment and repaired old sky Pacific dish that was in the island. At least nine Sky Pacific cable tv decoders were distributed among the five villages of the island.

“Now, the residents can use the internet, listen to live broadcast events in Tongatapu via 87.5 FM and watch all sorts of entertainment on television.  Although Digicel, only offered the first month for free of charge and we are very thankful for their generosity.”

“I also installed the VSAT donated by ITU. We are still collaborating with the Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC) to solve the problem but at least the equipment has been installed.”

Moala noted that it is the government’s vision to ensure that its citizens are connected to high-speed internet connection.

“I believe that the internet should also be made available everywhere and I was happy to do the work with the help of stakeholders.”

ENDS

Issued by the:
Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications.

 

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