SOHL TAKES HELM AT FSM TELECOM CORP

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New president to oversee broadband expansion

By Melanie Mendiola KOLONIA, Pohnpei - (Marianas Business Journal, May 24, 2010) –John Sohl was appointed president and chief executive officer of the Federated States of Micronesia Telecommunications Corp. following the April 26 retirement of his predecessor, Takuro Akinaga.

In months prior, FSM Telecom began a technological transformation with the installation of undersea fiber-optic cable bringing high-speed telecommunications to the FSM. After more than nine years in the planning, the project was made possible with the military’s newly connected Guam - Kwajelein cable.

"We are looking forward to rolling out high-speed Internet in all four states," said Sohl. "It used to be dialup and wireless, which is a lot slower and expensive."

Prior to his appointment, Sohl had been FSMTC’s chief operating officer since 1988.

FSMTC is a government-owned corporation, established in 1983. It is overseen by a five-member board of directors - composed of one director from the FSM national government and four representatives appointed by each of the state governors. It is currently the FSM’s sole provider of telephone, cable, Internet, television and mobile communications. The company’s operations are funded by revenues of the corporation, with no money coming from government or federal grant appropriations. Currently, FSM Telecom employs 160 residents, but Sohl said that he expects the number of employees to grow as services expand. The company currently spends approximately $150,000 a year in training for employees - mainly technicians - to attend regional and vendor training programs. Cable TV and telephone, the most highly patronized services, currently have about 400 customers in Kosrae and Yap and 1,000 in Pohnpei. Utilizing the new technology, the company plans to expand its TV offerings, with Internet Protocol TV to be piloted in Pohnpei later this year. Sohl said he hopes the new product will expand the customer base from 1,000 to 3,000.

Launching these services in the FSM marketplace comes with a host of challenges which, Sohl said, are many - his biggest being "expanding service to the remote outer islands, some not even accessible by air." Despite the challenges, Sohl says it is a priority for the services to remain affordable for residents of the FSM. All of the services offered by FSM Telecom with the exception of the government and some larger corporate customers in the region are provided on a prepaid basis, with rates being relatively low compared to regional peers. "We have not raised rates for home telephones from $8 a month from the beginning," Sohl said. Additionally, the company offers a range of phones, but for the cost-conscious it brings in a large number of very inexpensive phones. "We’re trying to provide some of the cheapest handsets, especially to kids. We’re practically giving them away."

The management team is made up of four managers at the headquarters level and three managers in Yap, Chuuk, and Kosrae. With the laying of the undersea fiber-optic cables, Sohl looks forward to exploring the opportunities that may help enhance the FSM’s regional and global position: "call centers, data storage, tele-health, tele-education," he says, "there’s a lot of work to be done; that’s going to be the challenge and the joy of the job."

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