FSM, Nauru, Kiribati reach a deal to push forward a stalled fiber optic cable project
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan The Federated States of Micronesia has signed a joint communiqué with Nauru and Kiribati, announcing the implementation of a long-stalled submarine cable project that will link the three Pacific island nations.
The $70 million fiber optic project called “East Micronesia Cable” is funded by the U.S., Japan and Australia.
First proposed in 2017, the project hit a snag when the FSM reconsidered the awarding of a contract to lay sensitive undersea communications cables to the former Huawei Technologies Co. Marine Networks, a Chinese company now called HMN Technologies.
In 2020, Reuters reported that the U.S. warned the FSM government that the Chinese company's involvement posed a security threat.
The joint communique was signed in Honolulu on Jan. 30 “after a series of discussions to advance the building of the EMC project,” according to a press release from the Office of the FSM President.
Officials said the EMC project will provide safe, secure and reliable internet capacity to Nauru, Kiribati and Kosrae.
“After several years of various forms of delays and setbacks, I am advised by the boards of FSM Telecommunications Corp. and the Open Access Entity that both of these FSM government entities are fully onboard with the East Micronesia Cable project,” President David Panuelo said in his state of the nation address delivered on Jan. 13.
In a joint statement issued in December 2021, officials said the proposed undersea cable will provide faster communications to approximately 100,000 people across three countries.
The new cable will connect Kosrae, Nauru and Kiribati with the existing Hannon-Armstrong or HANTRU-1 cable in Pohnpei.
HANTRU-1, which is primarily used by the U.S. government, connects the Reagan Test Site in the Kwajalein Atoll to Guam.
Carlson D. Apis, secretary of the FSM Department of Transportation, Communications and Infrastructure, said the EMC project will connect all four states in the FSM.
“It will also bring the rest of the world closer to us as we connect the FSM to the world through Guam, Kiribati and Nauru allowing for improved communications connections and providing widespread services of telehealth, tele-education and e-commerce to all citizens and residents in our country, including our remote islands,” Apis said.
He issued the statement after signing the communiqué with Pyon Deiye and Tekeeua Tarati, communication ministers for Nauru and Kiribati, respectively.
“We thank Kiribati and Nauru for joining us in this effort which will bring the whole Micronesian region closer together,” Apis added.
In his state of the nation address, Panuelo said, “ultimately the piece of physical infrastructure will democratize digital communications” in Kosrae, which is the only state currently without a fiber optic connection.
Panuelo also announced that Starlink will enter the FSM with a sample of small satellites in the summer of 2023.
“Starlink satellites provide internet connectivity to remote places all around the world,” Panuelo said.
“It will be in our national interest, including our security interests—such as when our nation faces king tides, tsunamis, and typhoons—to utilize these and other forms of communications so that our remote communities are able to send and receive information prior to, during, and after times of crisis," the president added.