The Chamber made a submission on February 20 to Telecommunications Minister Mark Brown to help inform an Asian Development Bank (ADB)-sponsored feasibility study into a submarine fibre optic telecommunications cable being laid from the Cooks.
In its submission, the Chamber said while the Cook Islands enjoys “reasonably broad access” to international communications and internet services, the country’s economic powerhouse Rarotonga is rapidly finding satellite communications’ latency, speed and cost constraints are limiting business opportunities.
The Chamber noted in the short term O3b’s low-earth orbit satellite communication is expected to bring some change in lower pricing, reduced latency, and increased speed when it is set up in August.
“However, in the medium-to long-term there is no doubt that an undersea fibre-optic cable will be required to service the needs of the Cook Islands, to allow the 21st century communication bandwidth that modern businesses need to expand.
“With the current population being depleted as the workforce emigrates for better opportunities overseas, it is crucial that we provide first-world standard communications to allow the development and maintenance of existing and new enterprises, connected in real-time at reasonable prices to the rest of the world.”
The Chamber thinks investing in an undersea cable to provide bandwidth would be “game changing” for the Cook Islands economy.
While the country is currently making significant investment in infrastructure services such as water and renewable energy, Commerce encouraged the government to recognise telecommunications as an equally necessary investment for future growth.
Initial costs are likely to be offset by future benefits, said the submission.
“Whilst the cost of a submarine fibre-optic may not be a commercially viable option at this time it does have the real potential to provide the Cook Islands with positive socio-economic benefits for the future.”
It suggested current regulatory framework should be amended to allow for investment in telecommunications by Cook Islands entities, any return on investment in infrastructure to be directed back into the Cook Islands economy where possible, and the separation of wholesale and retail telecommunications services.
It also recommended an independent telecommunications regulator or a commissioner to oversee the industry be established.
Last week Brown released new telecommunications principles to help improve the sector. These will be tabled and debated in parliament later this year before likely being passed into law.