(New Zealand, 28 March 2018) - Six years after substantive work began on the U.S. Federally funded Fiber to the Home (FTTH) project in American Samoa, named the Broadband Linking the American Samoa Territory or BLAST project, the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) is preparing to land a spur from the transpacific Hawaiki Submarine cable in the middle part of 2018 in order to supply the Authority with 200 Gbps of Internet capacity.
Prior to 2018 only 30%-35% of homes in the territory had a fixed broadband Internet connection, compared to over 88% of households in the United States. With sufficient capacity to fulfill and drive demand, this number is expected to grow as more households adopt the Internet for more everyday tasks such as home and family security, medical monitoring, education, and most especially entertainment. American Samoa will finally have the capacity to eventually match the national average for household broadband penetration. It already has the FTTH network with which to do so. (It is important to note that “broadband” Internet accounts in American Samoa currently varies between 768 kbps and 10 Mbps, and generally does not meet the U.S. mainland standard for broadband. Throughputs, as noted in the previous Part 3 of this series, are severely constrained by lack of international capacity, further degrading connectivity in the remote U.S. territory.)
In Part 3 of this series I had assumed that the standard formula for purchasing capacity, at the scale of the island territory’s small size and population, would apply and that the initial active capacity purchase for the cable operator would be on the order of 10 Gbps. That assumption; however, was not wholly correct. ASTCA has since reached out to me to let me know that the ambitious territorial Authority, which also operates a ubiquitous FTTH network, and who will soon be launching their own 4G LTE network (according to a recent FCC filing), has partnered and committed together with Hawaiki Cable to provision, at the outset, the entire 200 Gbps of capacity as active capacity, ready for use and sale. This should be sweet music to the ears of the Samoa-American Samoa cable operator, ASH Cable LLC., which stands to benefit from the use of their inter-island cable by carriers and operators in Independent Samoa to access some of that capacity. A bold move by the Authority as it makes its bid to attract the interest from carriers in Independent Samoa, but also to catch the eye of the governments of the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Niue, all of whom have signed on or expressed interest with the Manatua cable project, based in Samoa. The Manatua project aims to connect those islands either for the first time, or for additional capacity, via Independent Samoa. The Manatua project is headed by the principles and team at the Samoa Submarine Cable Company (SSCC), which operates the Tui Samoa Cable that connects Samoa to the Southern Cross transpacific submarine fiber network via Fiji. Tui Samoa Cable started serving customers in Samoa earlier this year (2018).
Data engineers reading this article will be trying to scratch an invisible itch at this point because such a massive increase in supplied capacity will have ramifications across the network in regards to the required re-dimensioning of every network element from the network edge to the subscriber’s terminal. These upgrades will be a significant undertaking for the Authority as it prepares for the upcoming infusion of capacity
As of 2016 the maximum designed carrying capacity of ASTCA’s core network was 40 Gbps, and if upgraded to 100G transport that max carrying capacity would increase to 400 Gbps, sufficient to handle the new capacity. On the other hand, the most expensive and difficult upgrades will be to the access and distribution, routing and switching fabric, most of which will need to be replaced and upgraded to handle at least 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps per path. Even without the upgrades the improvement would be overwhelmingly positive, if ultimately wasteful, as congested network elements may interfere with the smooth flow of Internet traffic across the local network.
We reached out to ASTCA CEO, Puleleiite Tufele Lia Jr., to provide some clarity for our readers as to the current status of ASTCA’s upgrades and network preparations in advance of the Hawaiki cable landing, and he set aside some time to bring us up to date on progress at the Authority. He explained that ASTCA has just completed, this past month, the upgrade of their core network from 10 Gbps to 100 Gbps. As, we noted previously, the figure eight configuration of their core network quadruples the core carrying capacity due to the multiple paths in each ring, bringing the carrying capacity of ASTCA’s core network to a whopping 400 Gbps. In a positive and pro-active move, ASTCA is also currently upgrading the routing and switching fabric for the access’ and distribution’ portion of their network. The access and distribution network elements are largely responsible for what the customer ultimately experiences, and this proactive approach bodes well for ASTCA’s customers.
Mr. Tufele Lia Jr. also indicated that ASTCA was open and willing to talk to any carriers and parties interested in connecting to the Hawaiki cable via ASTCA’s spur in American Samoa, and that ASTCA was looking at different organizational structures for management of the spur to optimally support their own business activities and the future wholesale activities of the submarine cable operation. Puleleiite also said that ASTCA was focused on the timely delivery of the Hawaiki spur and that such things as organizational structure and administration of the spur would be addressed when appropriate, and that for the time being he would be the point of contact for inquiries related to the spur’s business.
As for ASTCA’s plans on activating actual Internet capacity on their 200 Gbps of Hawaiki capacity, the ASTCA CEO was candid that ASTCA was going to push the limits off their business to provide as much capacity for local access as the business can afford, citing that the amended contract with Hawaiki, that he and his team had renegotiated, will give them more flexibility than the previous contract, possibly even allowing them to go all the way up to the full 200 Gbps; however, realistically he said that the initial amount could likely vary between 10 Gbps and 30 Gbps of IP transit and this depends a lot on retail subscriber and wholesale customer responses and sales. Either way, going small or going big, the flexibility of being able to use as much of the 200 Gbps as needed and can be afforded by their retail and wholesale customers opens the doors for American Samoa to be considered as a host location for connectivity dependent businesses and organizations from the region and among U.S. entities.
In light of this new information, our previously estimated 1.5 Gbps per local carrier seems rather low since the normally prohibitive cost of activating additional IRUs of 10 Gbps blocks is no longer an issue, ASTCA’s ability to control the entire two 100G waves of capacity for commercial purposes is a major and significant increase in business flexibility and revenue potential for the Territorial Authority.
In the context of Kbps per capita, this increase in active capacity takes American Samoa’s minimal lack of global Internet ranking at only 13 Kbps per capita (pre-2018) to potentially matching the 2010 OECD average of over 3,600 Kbps. This would put American Samoa’s per capita Kbps on par with many of the world’s most developed countries, and will surpass Australia and New Zealand by a fair margin in that measurement as well. However, even if, on the low end, only 30 Gbps of capacity is initially used to provide Internet services, this will give American Samoa a per capita Kbps of 540 Kbps per person. This would put American Samoa on par with Australia and New Zealand, and potentially guarantee territorial residents a similar broadband experience as residents of those two countries.
This sudden increase in American Samoa’s Internet fortunes will present an opportunity for researchers to study the bare effects of the sudden introduction of accessible, affordable high-speed Internet access on an insular and remote community and economy. This would be the first time that this level of increase in capacity was introduced into a market where the access technologies included ubiquitous Fiber To The Premises (FTTx), and 4G LTE mobility. For the first time, the variable of “access quality” would be controllable and consistent.
Economists and social scientists will ask what kind of impact this capacity increase will have on American Samoa, and conscientious policy makers will have to address both the economic and social ramifications. Less than 200 years ago, the Samoan people were still living in the Stone Age, and today American Samoa has the most modern and most underutilized communications infrastructure in the United States, which will very shortly be connected to the U.S. at 200 Gbps and American Samoa will suddenly become the most scrutinized telecommunications market in the world.
This connection with Hawaiki will allow American Samoa to literally become a direct extension of the U.S. economic and social fabric, and the potentially low price for wholesale capacity will be attractive to a number of American businesses. Policy makers in the territory will have to revise the tax code and review their licensing processes if they’re going to capitalize on the new cable, and look beyond the simple and direct benefit to the territory’s Internet subscribers. This is an opportunity of massive proportions for policy makers to positively impact the future of the territory and assist their Authority in maximizing the secondary and tertiary benefits of the cable.
In American Samoa, they have access to a few dozen popular U.S. cable channels and some broadcast programming. The new capacity could be used to connect the cable TV provider(s) to hundreds of channels of programming, including Video on Demand, niche programming, University remote learning networks, etc. American Samoa residents will be able to export content at the speed of light, participate in research networks, collaboration groups, technology startups, and so much more. Connected tourists could conceivably stream, in high definition, their hike through America’s most remote National Park’s virgin rain forests, or follow the underwater adventures of scuba divers swimming among the coral giants underneath the territory’s waves.
Medicine and medical care in the territory will be able to take running leaps forward as the new capacity can open up collaborative healthcare relationships with hospitals around the United States. This is especially true for America’s veterans, because American Samoa contributes more soldiers per capita than any other community in the United States. Remote monitoring and health applications will allow veterans to retain access to their doctors in the U.S., with this being an especially acute need in regards to access to psychological care specialists for veterans with PTSD and other combat related symptoms. The medical possibilities are many, from lab testing to direct and remote care.
However, the most beneficial outcomes for American Samoa will come from the private and business sectors. The new connectivity will open up the ability to use cloud based communications and collaboration tools, reducing the costs of hosting such services locally or the cost to the business of forgoing such tools. New, technology driven channels for advertising, commerce, content, and financial services, will become potential new income sources for ASTCA or any private business looking to leverage the new connectivity. Skilled ICT and technology professionals, computer programmers, and software developers with ties to the territory will be able to move their businesses to the territory, bringing with them their income potential and their ability to contribute their skills to increasing the local effective capacity economy in the territory by virtue of the halo effect of their presence and contribution to the local knowledge base.
Regardless of how they divide and use the 200 Gbps, they will still end up with lots of capacity for American Samoa’s bandwidth starved residents. In a bold series of moves, the ASTCA management team not only propels American Samoa up the ranks of connected communities, but they are also announcing that they are open for business as a capacity wholesaler and potential regional hub candidate. Will the cheap capacity and the stability of their close association with the United States be enough to sway nearby island governments of the merits of hubbing through America Samoa instead of Samoa, or will American Samoa and Samoa combine efforts on the Manatua cable project to leverage both the Hawaiki and Tui Samoa Cables to build a consortium that can leverage both source cables to exact better pricing from their upstream providers? Only the principals in both projects know which way they’re leaning and I’m sure all the principles are playing their hands close to the vest until after both cables are operational.