Niue's largest internet provider to switch off service
Niue's largest internet provider will switch off its service on Monday after a dispute with the government over free access.
Niue's largest internet provider will switch off its service after a dispute with the government over free access.
The administrator of the .nu domain site, the Internet Users Society Niue, acquired the rights in the 1990s, and through this it has subsidised wireless access on the island.
But the chief executive of the provider company, Rocket Systems, says the recent introduction of generic domain names means .nu is a less profitable venture, and this has forced it to charge for wifi access.
Emani Lui says the government has reacted angrily to the charge, directing him to switch off Rocket Systems' services.
The government denies this, saying the announcement caught it by surprise, but RNZ International has seen correspondence which suggests otherwise.
Mr Lui says government-owned Telecom Niue is able to charge for its services, but a private company, Rocket Systems, must absorb the cost of a free service, which it can't do.
He told Jamie Tahana he feels he's been muscled out of the Niue market so the government can establish a telecommunications monopoly.
EMANI LUI: We have a directive from government, a statement stating that we need to shut off our services or reply to them with why we should continue to operate if we haven't broken any laws. So we've replied to them with a list of all the points that we believe that we should be an operator after 17 years. At the same time we do not want to not comply with the law so we're saying, 'OK we will comply with the directive,' and I have asked to give us until Monday 9am to inform our users, as well as prepare our equipment, and then we'll turn off.
JAMIE TAHANA: What is this government directive, because the government says it's a surprise to them, there hasn't been a government directive to shut off services?
EL: So based on the letter that was sent to us the second time, it basically says to cease services. So I don't know which part that they are confused on, it's their letter and we have replied both letters to them and now they're saying they have not received any reply from us.
JT: OK so the government statement media release from last week where it says it has not received a reply from Rocket Systems in regards to this decision they've taken that they haven't heard anything, that's wrong is it?
EL: Yes, and we've also done a public consultation about three weeks ago, government representatives as well as business sector people and the general public all turned up and they asked all the questions, we presented to them what the going forward plan was from Rocket and why the charges were being applied, so this is not a overnight decision, we've actually been doing a lot of media releases and you can go back through our social media as well as our website. So, they actually do know and are aware of what the plans have been and we basically, Telecom has issued us an annual licence for over 10 years now and we have been paying those things, so suddenly I think in one of the correspondence they are saying that we do not have an ISP licence.
JT: And this all draws back to the announcement by Rocket Systems a couple of months ago that it would increase the charges it does for the wireless system across Niue?
EL: Yes, so previously we've been charging a nominal fee of NZ$25 per user, so because of some changes in our aid money from overseas, now it's only applied to the satellite bandwidth, so we needed to look at some other ways of being sustainable because, as you know, we've been operating a free wifi system for how many years now. So the world has changed now as well as online medium, so our usage or users traffic has changed as well - we can't support them any more.
JT: Are you able to just bring in a charge though? The government says that the licence is for a free wifi service for Niue. That's what the licence is for. Are you able to just slap on a charge?
EL: So the licences before did not actually tell us that it was only for a free service. The agreement was with IUSN, which is the manager of the domain name, but in all of our transactions they have been invoicing a company, which is Rocket Systems, the one registered here in Niue and that is the one that actually owns the licences.
JT: And there is another internet provider on Niue isn't there, Telecom Niue, the government-owned one, they're able to charge aren't they?
EL: Yes, so in 2012 about four years ago, Telecom Niue brought along ADSL services to the island, so they have only been in this industry for the last four years and basically they've started to offer wifi in the commercial centre which is next to their main office, so they don't actually cover the whole island in terms of wireless delivery but they do have access to their fiber rings around the island offering ADSL to users. So if you take, for example, their charges for last year on wireless just in town it was NZ$50 for a day, so that was quite high, and then just before Christmas they came out with a package of $15 a day and as of the news release last night, now they're saying that they will be delivering a free wifi service.
JT: Your feeling is that Rocket Systems has been muscled out for a government Telecom Niue monopoly?
EL: Well I would not like to suggest such a thing but it is the only, I guess, scenario that we're looking at. The only thing that's in the way of Telecom Niue right now is that there's another ISP sitting in its way, and now that we're asking users to pay extra charges, now we're being asked to move out of its sector.
JT: And so unless something drastic happens from the government over the next day, what does this mean for internet users on Niue?
EL: So unless something turns around and asks us to continue or to have a discussion, in terms of all of our users that's on our wifi services, it all goes offline.
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