BLUE SKY OFFERS INTERNET ACCESS SERVICE IN AMERICAN SAMOA

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By Lewis Wolman

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (June 5, 2000 – Samoa News)---The Internet is no longer the wave of the future in the United States and the planet Earth. It is now the present, simple as that.

But in American Samoa, the Internet wave has not yet crashed upon our shores in full force.

Affordable Internet access has been routinely available from the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) for over two years, but the government-owned utility has never pushed the service in an aggressive attempt to spread the World Wide Web into local households.

Blue Sky Communications intends to do just that.

Last Thursday, the private company introduced its "NetView" Internet access service in direct competition with that offered by Samoatelco, a division of ASTCA.

Blue Sky would of course like to capture some of Samoatelco's customers (or even all of them), but the company believes its success will come from increasing the number of local households who pay a monthly fee for dial-up access to the Internet (a separate phone line is not needed).

Thanks to "eRate", American Samoa does not lag behind the U.S. when it comes to Internet connectivity in the schools, but it is a different story at home.

In the United States, the day is not far off when 50% of all households will have a personal computer with Internet access. In American Samoa, few households enjoy the privilege.

Blue Sky is hoping Internet access will become much more common in American Samoa, and anyone willing to pay the price can get hooked up to their service, or Samoatelco's.

The two services are similar, but there are distinct differences. Blue Sky believes the differences are worth paying a little extra for, as their basic charge of $25 per month is $5 more than Samoatelco charges. (These charges are for the first 20 hours of use each month. Both Internet Service Providers (ISP) charge more for additional connection time. Blue Sky charges $1 an hour, and Samoatelco charges $.75 to $.50 an hour).

The benefits touted by Blue Sky include:

• an installation CD that makes it easy for customers to automatically set up their personal computers for Internet access. Samoatelco staff members help customers get connected, but the process can be technically difficult and is not automated. Both ISP will make field visits to customers having trouble.

• a promise of no busy signals when calling the access number (633-1010) and faster speeds when connected. All 48 of Blue Sky's modems are 56 kbps, whereas Samoatelco still employs 28.8 kbps in some of its modem banks. It is no secret that Samoatelco has had trouble accommodating demand for Internet service and local users have long complained about busy signals, unstable connections and slow links.

• faster links, thanks to the full T1 circuit connecting Blue Sky's satellite dish to the World Wide Web. Samoatelco has only a half-T1 line, and prior to Flag Day, had an even more restricted bandwidth.

• Web-based e-mail which Blue Sky customers can check from anywhere in the world.

• "better customer service," including technical support hours that extend from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Blue Sky will demonstrate its service to anyone interested at its Laufou offices. The three-person NetView staff present a side-by-side comparison that reveals the speed advantage of Blue Sky's service.

The demo site also includes a Sega Dreamcast machine, which is a new breed of hybrid game and Internet connectivity appliance.

The Sega machine, which Blue Sky sells for $260, can serve as both a gaming machine, with offerings like "Tomb Raider", or it can serve an Internet browsing device, substituting for a more expensive personal computer.

For $260, local households can surf the web and use e-mail, without buying a personal computer.

At this point, and for the foreseeable future, Blue Sky does not intend to offer any Internet connectivity besides the 56 k dial-up service. By contrast, Samoatelco has a limited number of customers (such as the Samoa News) who have more industrial strength connections to the Internet, such as 128 k frame relays.

KHJ-FM, for example, uses such a connection to program its music from the mainland and to insert the song identifications that are in fact recorded in Dallas, Texas and sent via the Internet to "downtown Pago Pago." (In other words, you won't be meeting the man behind the voice of "Charlie Tuna" unless you plan to fly to Texas).

Blue Sky must rely on ASTCA to provide the link between its NetView customers and its Internet equipment (located near its satellite dish in Tafuna). "ASTCA has been great to work with," said Blue Sky engineer Faye Ala'ilima-Rose last week.

But the lack of control over every segment of the connection is one reason Blue Sky is not yet offering the kind of services becoming available in the U.S., such as frame relays, ISDN, cable modem, and the newest buzz: DSL phone connections.

Blue Sky General Manager Fagafaga Daniel Langkilde said the company wants to establish a firm foundation with its dial-up service before branching out into these other, business-oriented Internet offerings.

"Our business plan calls for selling Internet service to the average person," Langkilde said. "We are offering another choice and better service," he stated.

Langkilde declined to quote the size of the investment Blue Sky made in its ISP service, but said it was "significant."

Blue Sky's ISP manager, Lloyd Alaimalo, and his technical support assistant, Lay Sauea, were formerly with Samoatelco; Alaimalo was sent to Georgia by Blue Sky for extensive training prior to last week's launch. The two young staff members are assisted by Maoto Turner, who works part-time.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

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