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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Dec. 20) — A submarine fiber optic cable that would transform communications in the remote islands of the central Pacific is being delayed by U.S. military indecision, say officials from the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia telecom companies.

"We’re ready to move forward," Federated States of Micronesia Telecommunications Corporation general manager Takuro Akinaga said Friday. "But we’re waiting for the U.S. military to tell us what it wants so we can come up with the loan package."

Marshall Islands National Telecommunication Authority (NTA) general manager Tony Muller agreed: "We can’t go to the U.S. Rural Utility Service without information from the US military."

The plan, under discussion for three years, is for a $67 million underwater fiber optic cable that would link Pohnpei, the capital of Micronesia, Kwajalein and Majuro atolls in the Marshall Islands to Guam and Australia, dramatically increasing communications capacity, while reducing cost by eliminating the need to use satellites.

The U.S. military interest in the submarine cable comes from the Army-operated Kwajalein missile testing range, America’s prime missile defense testing center. Earlier this week, an $80 million test failed when an interceptor rocket did not launch from a missile silo at Kwajalein because of an unknown problem. Kwajalein’s boomerang shaped necklace of coral islands, many of which are dotted with some of the world’s most sophisticated missile tracking equipment, is the catcher’s mitt for incoming test missiles launched from California, Alaska, Wake Island and other islands.

Army officials at Kwajalein declined to comment on the project.

"This cable will have a greater impact than when the U.S. Trust Territory opened satellite service here (replacing radio communications)," Akinaga said. "I use a water pipe to explain it. The satellite service is like a one-inch wide pipe for communications. The submarine cable is like a 200 foot wide pipe."

Installation of the new communications cable would allow for broadband Internet services and open numerous opportunities for non-telecom business that require high-speed communications ability.

The plan for the cable has been under discussion for three years, but to date the U.S. military has not confirmed whether it will be investing money to pay for its share of the cable, or whether it wants the two island telecommunications agencies to pay for the installation costs and then lease the cable from them.

A meeting of the Joint Telecommunications Board established by a Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the two island nations is tentatively scheduled in Honolulu in mid-January. The meeting is expected to include both telecommunications outfits, in addition to government officials, and U.S. military representatives.

December 20, 2004

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com


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