Result Briefs September 16, 2019

Closing the digital divide in Tonga

Over the last 6 years, 2 million more people in the region gained access to mobile phones. Now, high speed internet is growing to reduce isolation.

World Bank Group


Since 2011 the World Bank has been supporting governments of the Pacific to increase the affordability, reliability and quality of information and communication and technology (ICT) access, through the Pacific Regional Connectivity Program (PRCP). The first phase in Tonga has delivered significant benefits for more than 101,000 people – close to the entire population of the Pacific Island kingdom.

Challenge

Tonga is a geographically remote kingdom in the Pacific region, with a population of just over 100,000 living on 76 islands spread across 700,000 square kilometers of ocean. Prior to PRCP, Tonga was dependent on expensive satellite links for internet connectivity – available to only two percent of the population, with broadband access even lower at 0.9 percent. This limited telecommunications capacity was inadequate to meet the growing demands of a population seeking better connectivity for business and trade, health, education, entertainment and communication with the kingdom’s significant diaspora community.

Approach

Through investment in infrastructure and technical assistance, PRCP Tonga reduced the costs of international connectivity (internet and telephone) and strengthened the telecommunications regulatory framework. By doing so, the project has improved the enabling environment for ICT, thus fostering healthier market competition and increasing access to infrastructure and services.


97%

Reduced the average retail cost of broadband internet by 97 percent.


Results

By project close in July 2018, PRCP Tonga had:

  • Benefitted over 101,000 people, including close to 20,000 in the two main outer islands of Ha’apai and Vava’u.
  • Reduced the average retail cost of broadband internet by 97 percent.
  • Reduced the average per-minute cost of international phone calls by 37 percent.
  • Delivered significantly lower wholesale broadband prices, through assistance on the development of stronger legislation.
  • Delivered a 118-fold increase in available international internet bandwidth to 4,400 Mbps.
  • Constructed a 1,217-kilometer network of submarine fiber-optic cables, connecting Tonga and Fiji, and Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu to Ha’apai and Vava’u.
  • Guided the partial privatization of monopoly cable operator Tonga Cable Limited (TCL), selling 16.7 percent of the company to private operator Digicel.
  • Assisted the development of the Communication Act, passed in 2016, which has provided two types of licenses: a network operators license and an Internet Service Providers (ISPs) license.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) contributed US$16.03 million to the PRCP Tonga. The Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility (PRIF) Trust Fund, funded by the governments of Australia and New Zealand, contributed US$0.46 million.

Partners

The Asian Development Bank provided cofinancing of US$9.7 million, while the government of Tonga provided an estimated co-contribution of US$6.6 million via TCL, the public-private submarine cable operator.

The project was implemented by Tonga’s Ministry of Information and Communications (now the Ministry of Meteorology, Environment, Information, Disaster Management, Climate Change and Communications).

Moving Forward

The delivery of higher quality, reliable and significantly more affordable ICT in Tonga has led to numerous benefits, with the approach of delivering essential infrastructure and supporting the improvement of the regulatory environment now being replicated across PRCP projects in Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (Yap, Pohnpei, Kosrae), Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa and Tuvalu.

Further, improved connectivity has enabled new projects, like the Tonga Digital Government Support Project, approved in May 2019.

Beneficiaries

Some time before taking on the role of Director of the Public Health Division at the Pacific Community,  Dr. Paula Vivili was acting superintendent of Vaiola Hospital and Tonga’s only eye surgeon. Early on, Dr. Vivili could see the potential applications for communication technologies, enabled through PRCP Tonga:

Image

 

This fiber optic cable will allow our doctors to communicate more easily with health workers on other islands also with doctors overseas… Video conferencing has big potential for us, particularly as a remote island nation. It will mean international specialists can join us and provide immediate advice and input during an operation, and will reduce some of the pressure on our team here.”

Dr. Paula Vivili

Director of the Public Health Division at the Pacific Community

  

Image