WASHINGTON, July 22, 2010 — Building on previous success in the field of telecommunications, the World Bank Board today approved $US15 million in a zero-interest loan to improve telecommunications infrastructure and services in rural and remote areas of Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The Rural Communication Project will provide access to telecommunications for over 420,000 rural Papua New Guineans in the provinces of Chimbu and East Sepik, and facilitate public internet access in around sixty district centers. Increased access to information and services is expected to contribute to economic growth, social development and local business development in the project areas. The Project will also finance technical assistance to the new telecommunications regulator, the National ICT Authority and the Department of Communications and Information in the development of a long-term telecommunications Universal Access and Service Scheme.
Rural Papua New Guineans have the least access to telecommunications infrastructure in the country but due to their remoteness require it the most.
“We have seen how many rural communities around the world have benefited from improved telephone and internet access,” said Ferid Belhaj, Country Director for Papua New Guinea, World Bank. “This project aims to increase access to information and technology in such communities in order to level the playing field and help connect people to opportunities.”
Increased communications infrastructure in rural areas is expected to improve the lives of many: connecting farmers to information on market prices, weather and agricultural extension services; improving opportunities for entrepreneurs; increasing communications between various government agencies; increasing access to information about health and education services; and helping people stay in closer contact with distant family members.
At its request, the World Bank has been advising the Government of Papua New Guinea on options for improving connectivity, and sharing experiences of good practices in telecommunications legislative and regulatory reform. The entry of private operators and aggressive competition in the mobile sector has already resulted in increased coverage and access to services. This has led to cheaper calls and SIM cards for Papua New Guineans and a five-fold increase in access to mobile phones. There is still scope for increasing access to telecommunications infrastructure and services in many areas of the country.
Internet access is also a major challenge. High prices and limited investment in internet access networks have contributed to low internet connectivity in Papua New Guinea. Across the country there are estimated to be fewer than 50,000 internet subscribers, most of them based in Port Moresby. Under the project, internet access is expected to increase significantly in rural district centers.