On 19 November 2017, a cable ship sailed along the coast of Wallis. It had left Calais a few months earlier and had just carried out its mission: lay a cable which will be connected to the island’s digital data infrastructure, before continuing its route towards Futuna and Fiji to conduct the same operation.
This submarine communication cable is called “Tui Samoa”. It is 1,600 km long and will connect Fiji to Samoa, along with Wallis and Futuna. Its role: connect these Pacific islands to very high speed broadband and bring them into the digital era.
Digital technology, a facilitator for development
At a time when new technologies and broadband Internet are essential, the territory of Wallis and Futuna still remains poorly “connected”. Despite significant efforts in the digital field (ADSL, TNT, WiFi hotspots, 3G/4G mobile phones), services are still insufficient: a single satellite link with a limited capacity, 128 Kbits/s ADSL subscriptions at 80 euros a month (against 20 euros in New Caledonia)… and to get the best possible available connection, you have to pay as much as 640 euros a month for a 1 Mo subscription!
Prohibitive tariffs and a “disconnection” which further exacerbate the isolation of Wallis and Futuna. At 16,000 km from Paris, it is the furthest French overseas territory from mainland France. This isolation causes an exodus of the local population, which is faced with the lack of employment opportunities (18% decrease between 2003 and 2013).
How to reverse the trend? For the authorities, there is no doubt: the remoteness has to be offset by better connectivity. The connection to Tui Samoa is consequently an historical opportunity.
A regional project
It is firstly a regional cooperation model, initiated and led by the Government of Samoa via a dedicated structure, the Samoa Submarine Cable Company. The Tui Samoa project has received financial support from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. As the cable route passes less than 100 km from the coasts of Wallis and Futuna, the territory saw it as a unique opportunity to connect to the global digital network.
Thanks to support from AFD and the Ministry for Overseas France, it has managed to be part of this large-scale project in a tight timescale, via an intergovernmental agreement with Samoa. AFD’s involvement, as a financial advisor then funder, has been a crucial factor in the success of the project: it played a major role in structuring the financing to make it less complex and has provided financing tailored to the issues at stake. It consequently allocated a EUR 13m bridging loan to the local authority to prefinance the connection works. This loan will be repaid by grants from the 11th European Development Fund (EDF).
This project is a model of effective cooperation between AFD and the European Commission (via EDF). So, to finance its connection, the Territory of Wallis and Futuna has not only benefited from substantial financing in the context of the 11th territorial EDF, but also from the flexibility and rapidity of the AFD prefinancing.
A cable to connect everyone
The French equipment manufacturer Alcatel Submarine Networks is handling the project management for the cable. The connection will be operational in the course of 2018 and is a source of hope: significant impacts are expected, both socially and in terms of economic development. With a fourfold increase in the connection speed, residents are finally going to be able to surf the Internet, benefit from the advantages of broadband at more affordable tariffs to stay in touch with the diaspora… and have simplified access to online services and knowledge which used to be out of their reach: health, training, administrative services…
This connection is just the first stage in the Territory’s digital strategy for 2030. Other projects will be set up: creation of e-training rooms to develop distance learning and telemedicine, an important means of improving access to healthcare, to consult and get treatments without having to travel.
Broadband will transform the archipelago and make it more attractive, especially for external companies and the development of service activities. It is the opportunity to promote the benefits of the territory (tax incentives for companies) to make the local economy take off. Wallis and Futuna connected also ensures better integration into the regional environment and promises enhanced cooperation with its neighbors Fiji and Samoa.
Access to new services, economic activity revived, new prospects: enough to allow young people to plan for the future… without moving away.