ADB says high internet costs constraining development
ADB says high internet costs constraining economic development in the Pacific.
The high cost of internet services is constraining the economic development of some Pacific countries.
That's the view of the Asian Development Bank, which says internet services cost more than a fifth of the income of some Pacific people.
Jo O'Brien reports
The ADB's Pacific ICT specialist, Sibesh Bhattacharya, says in Pacific countries not connected to the internet by submarine cable, services can cost more than 20 percent of per capita income. That compares to less than five percent in developed countries. He says the cost of online communication is a significant issue for small isolated islands
SIBESH BHATTACHARYA: Communication is the key for any kind of business development or any kind of entrepeneurship right now. In the Pacific many can not afford to have internet so they can not communicate efficiently with the outer world so that is a constraint for them.
On Palau, where a gigabyte of data costs fifty US dollars, Chamber of Commerce member and business person Jennifer Gibbons is feeling the frustration. She says their reliance on a low orbitting satellite connection makes the internet expensive and unreliable.
JENNIFER GIBBONS: At the rapid pace that the rest of the planet works, it's very hard for a small business like myself, who has to communicate out to New York, or to Japan or in to Beijing, too try and communicate with them by landline is too expensive, so you try to use Vibe or Skype all these other alternatives and you can't do it if the internet is not sufficiently robust.
The Asian Development Bank and other organisations are supporting countries such as Samoa and Palau to build submarine cable connections to bring down prices and improve services - a prospect that excites Jennifer Gibbons.
JENNIFER GIBBONS: This will make a world, a world, a world of difference. We've got a thriving tourism market, you'd never really know it because when folks come to visit us they can't just do a quick snapchat and let people know they just visited this amazing rock island because our internet doesn't allow people to do that.
But Sibesh Bhattacharya says some other countries including Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu still have no submarine cable connections. Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Dennis Meone says his government is looking at getting such a connection, which would be welcomed by businesses frequently frustrated by the high charge of slow satellite connections.
DENNIS MEONE: This is a big challenge, especially for SMEs that are trying to do marketing online. So you have businesses that are coming online and using Facebook or even social media, and setting up websites. That is a hindrance in terms of how they can market their products.
Papua New Guinea Women in Business executive director Janet Sape says internet services are one of the biggest costs for business people in her country. She says it's holding back business growth in the cities and also in rural areas, where 80 to 90 percent of the people live.
JANET SAPE: We want to encourage people to do business from the villages, the downstream processing they can do from all the resources they have in the village, but how can they reach the world, even PNG our towns and cities, if they don't have the internet services and if they can not do business through internet. In the village, they have the land resource, they have the crops, they have marine resource. There's so much resources but that's what's hindering them.
Papua New Guinea already has a submarine cable connection. But the ADB's Sibesh Bhattacharya, says other factors are also contributing to high internet costs in the region.
SIBESH BHATTACHARYA: Competition is one of them to bring the costs down, but in these significantly small countries you will find there is not much competition at the retail level, only one or maximum two retail players are there.
Sibesh Bhattacharya says the ADB is encouraging other players to enter the market to boost competition, and is working to strengthen regulatory bodies so they can help keep prices down. He says other emerging technologies may also help to bring down costs.
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