Major Telecommunications Upgrade

Today, the Governor of Western Province, Taboi Yoto MP, announced a major upgrade to the province’s telecommunications network. PNG Sustainable Development Program Ltd is paying for this initiative while Digicel is undertaking the repairs, upgrades and building new infrastructure on their behalf.

This $32.5 million initiative has already begun, with the first cluster of company towers now able to deliver a 4G service. By June this year all towers will have been repaired or replaced, new towers built, associated telecommunications equipment upgraded, and a five-year maintenance program put in place to keep the network working properly.

Almost everyone in Western Province will be able to access a reliable 4G phone and internet service by about the middle of the year.

The improved telecommunications system will then be used as a stepping stone for PNGSDP and its development partners to introduce new ways of delivering health, education and financial services throughout the province.

“This initiative builds on the past work done by PNGSDP. Its towers sparked a revolution in the province when they were first built, opening people’s eyes and ears to modern technology, new ideas and new ways of doing things.

“This latest initiative is going to spread that revolution (and benefits to the people) even further and bring an immediate improvement in the quality of people’s lives in Western Province as a result of the restoration of efficient and reliable communications.”

The big impact will come from the introduction of the latest 4G telecommunications-based education, health and financial services, namely:

  • Supporting distance education for remote communities by improving teacher capabilities, providing tools for classroom activities and self-learning, and accessing world-class education content.
  • Improving health services in remote communities by using telecommunications to deliver some services direct to the patient in the village, thereby avoiding the need for patients to travel to a centralised medical centre. 4G telecommunications can provide technical backup (such as remote diagnostic techniques, patient records, and on-line advice) for paramedics working in village-based clinics. It can also provide a rapid and more effective means of dealing with emergencies and referrals of acute patients, preventing what in present circumstances can often result in the loss of life.
  • On-line financial services (mobile banking) can also be delivered through well proven business models now operating successfully in other countries. PNGSDP is already working with a leading development partner to bring an internet-enabled banking service to Western Province. Other business services such as improved advice and assistance for smallholders in the rubber industry can also be provided remotely.

PNGSDP has begun work on a number of related education projects, including:

  • In consultation with the Kokoda Track Foundation, SDP is planning a subsidiary campus in Western Province to train the local teachers and health workers needed for a major roll-out of these internet-enabled health and education services
  • And in consultation with the Digicel Foundation, a pilot scheme will use the upgraded telecommunications network to strengthen nine schools in remote areas with internet-enabled education materials and support. This initiative will be launched soon. Once in place its effectiveness will be reviewed and PNGSDP will then consider a widespread roll-out in Western Province

Repairing and upgrading Western Province’s telecommunications system is just one of a number of new development initiatives being undertaken by PNGSDP (under the Program Rules, it can spend some of the income earned by the Long Term Fund, although the loss of dividends from the Ok Tedi mine means less money is available than in the past).

Consequently, we must ensure we spend the money wisely. Projects must be of real importance to the people of Western Province and they must be carried out in an efficient manner. The telecommunications program meets these criteria.