20 January 2013

Answer to Sir Bob Russell's Parliamentary Question reveals continuing efforts to connect St Helena

Sir Bob Russel, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Colchester
Sir Bob Russel, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Colchester, has shown support to connect St Helena recently when he tabled a formal Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for International Development, asking what discussions her ministry has had with the St Helena Government about providing the island with broadband internet.

On 15 January 2013 Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development, answered as follows:

“DFID officials are in regular contact with the St Helena Government about the proposed fibre-optic cable link that would bring broadband to the island.

The UK Government recognises that a fibre-optic cable connection could bring faster, more reliable global broadband connectivity to St Helena, which could have a positive impact on economic development on the island in addition to the airport investment.

If the developer can secure the private sector finance to proceed with the main line of the cable connecting South Africa and Brazil, then a full economic assessment would be needed to consider the extent of the economic and social benefits that linking St Helena to this line could bring. DFID would consider this evidence against the availability of funds and other bids for our resources.”
(full text)

In a statement from 11 January 2013 Suzanne Adcock, DfID Programme Manager for St. Helena & Tristan da Cunha, informed us that Tom Kelly, Head of Overseas Territories Department had also met Dr. Rosalind Thomas of eFive Telecoms, the South African company behind the South Atlantic Express cable, recently.
Ms Adcock stated that clearer details of capital costs and future operating costs are needed before the required economic assessment studies can be performed. “The next step for DFID and the St Helena Government is to clarify these costs and undertake this analysis so we can assess whether any UK Government investment is economically and financially justified.”, she explained.

eFive Telecoms is currently in the process of attracting investors and users for the South Atlantic Express cable, which will stretch for 9 900km from South Africa to Brazil, from where it will join other international cable systems to provide access to North America and Asia, respectively.

In November 2012 Dr. Thomas said she expects financial closure for the $280 million project to take place no later than the end of June 2013, though it may happen as early as April 2013. Financing will be a combination of debt and equity, probably on a 50-50 split. “I can’t reveal the names of the financial institutions because they’ve asked us not to,” she said. “We’re at a sensitive stage of discussions.”

Once financial close for the project has been reached, a decision on the St Helena spur of the cable will need to be made very soon.

High-speed broadband would be huge for education. Not only could we make better use of online materials, but with affordable broadband teachers could develop their practice from home.
I'm an IT engineer and I would love to return to my island to start an IT business, but because of the slow, expensive and unreliable internet connection this is simply impossible.
I had to leave St Helena to study. Being 5000 miles away from my family and friends is hard. Not being able to skype with them due to the slow and expensive internet on St Helena is even harder.
Socioeconomic status is now heavily reliant on broadband penetration. With the ever-growing importance of the internet, St Helena with its limited access is in danger of being left behind.