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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 13) – Fiji’s ranking in telephone communications among other countries has dropped over the last few years, the International Telecommunication Union Indicators for 2005 revealed.

This is according to a report by Arno Wirzenius, a consultant hired by the Information and Communication Ministry.

Mr. Wirzenius was to prepare a report on the Telecommunications Road Map.

"The obvious reason is that other countries have improved more than Fiji, in particular mobile," the report said.

In 1990, Fiji's ranking for fixed services was 18 out of 52 countries. Last year it dropped to 34.

Mr. Wirzenius said provision of services in rural areas was among the lowest in lower middle-income economies for fixed as well as mobile telephony.

"Main reasons for the poor performance appear to be the limitations imposed by the current licensing regime and choice of technology and services. Another impeding factor is the current objective for service provision in rural areas, one shared per village, upon which the village is considered "served". This objective appears to function in practice as a ceiling for service provision. Furthermore, the shared telephone is in many cases expensive Drua phone, and users must use Telecards, which increases the call price. Mandating telecards also hampers the availability as telecards are usually not sold in the village where the phone resides, only at post offices and some other distant outlets. This arrangement is likely to further reduce usage and revenue for the telecom operators," the report said.

Mr. Wirzenius said another factor impeding the penetration of telephones in rural areas was the connection charges, which is between FJ$3,000 and FJ$10,000 [US$1,700 and US$5,800].

He said this price made it virtually impossible for all rural inhabitants to obtain a telephone line.

"The reason is the past choice of technology and related pricing and refusal to provide normal services. Mobile telephones are not either available in most rural areas. Appropriate mobile coverage exists in urban areas but only in few areas outside tourist resorts. In many comparable countries mobile services have been extended to many rural areas on a commercial basis without subsidies. The most important mobile service is prepaid. The mobile revolution has not yet reached Fiji's rural areas," Mr. Wirzenius said.

Amalgamated Telecom Holdings chief executive Lionel Yee said they accepted Mr. Wirzenius' report but they had to take into consideration returns to shareholders.

Mr. Wirzenius said the single most important reason for licensing any telecom operator was to provide services but the survey carried out on the access to the telecommunications infrastructure and services in rural areas, indicated that service provision was inadequate in Fiji.

"The present arrangement in Fiji with a private monopoly is disappointing," he said

[PIR editor’s note: Arno Wirzenius - a telecommunication consultant with Tele planning of Finland - has been in Fiji since July, helping the ministry of information to formulate a "road map" for the deregulation of Fiji’s Telecommunications industry (read related story).]

December 14, 2005

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