11 January 2013

St Helena gets bandwidth boost, but still falls short

A doubling of bandwidth on St Helena's satellite link was applauded by the island's Internet community, reported The Sentinel (p.5), a local newspaper. St Helena’s total international bandwidth is now 20 MBit/s, twice the original 10 MBit/s. New fiber optic connections on the island have also helped to mitigate congestion.

But despite the bandwidth increase, the island’s Internet users remain very much in the slow lane. Last November, the British telecommunications regulatory body, Ofcom, reported that the average UK household’s bandwidth had reached 12.7 MBit/s. This means St Helena's population of 4,200 shares less bandwidth than two British homes.

Such a wide gap in connection speeds calls into question claims made by Cable & Wireless South Atlantic — St Helena's only telecoms provider — that network bottlenecks on the island are a thing of the past. A company spokesperson also indicated to The Sentinel that they saw little scope for further bandwidth increases, aside from minor improvements to the existing satellite link. The company spokesperson did not mention the proposed landing of the superfast South Atlantic Express cable, capable of providing 100 GBit/s (100,000 MBit/s) of bandwidth exclusively to St Helena.

To understand why Cable & Wireless were anxious to announce that the bottleneck problem had been solved, we should examine the clear threat that super-fast Internet poses to their telephone and TV business. International telephone traffic would likely move to free Internet-based services like Skype, while many customers would prefer to watch British TV over the Internet rather than subscribing to the company’s pay TV service, which costs £36.30 per month and mainly features channels from Africa.

We hope that this conflict of interest on the part of the telecom monopoly — recently acquired by the Bahraini company Batelco — does not hamper efforts of bringing true broadband to the island.

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.