The little island that could: Yap takes the lead in digital communications for FSM
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
Colonia, Yap -- It’s been nearly three years since the installation of the World Bank-funded fiber optic cable brought the remote island of Yap and its sister states into the 21st century with reliable broadband internet service.
Now, the small state is getting ready to take another major leap forward by becoming FSM’s leader in telecommunications and providing greatly improved economic development opportunities thanks to one of the island’s native sons.
As Yap’s newly licensed telecom company, iBoom Waab Inc. is headed by technology entrepreneur Lubuw Falanruw. Working from his base in Hawaii during the pandemic lockdown, he has assembled a team of local and expatriate Yapese to jump-start the enterprise.
Among the company’s planned offerings will be customer support for international businesses, as well as local internet, cellular and other value-added digital services to support social and economic development.
Yap Gov. Henry Falan’s vision for the island’s sustainable development is one that meets the needs of Yap’s citizens first rather than the needs of outside developers. When he first learned about Falanruw’s concept, he enthusiastically supported it and immediately began paving the way toward making it a reality.
“The pandemic has proven to all of us that we must have reliable, dependable means of communication. It is the foundation for all development in today’s world including political, social and economic development,” Falan said. “This project will be a true game-changer for Yap.”
While Falanruw approached the national government to establish protocols necessary to its success, Falan started preparing for its arrival.
A multi-year land lease was awarded to Falanruw for a prime parcel of state-owned property in the middle of Colonia, and an abandoned building on the site was recently leveled.
The Yap-based project has given focus to the national government’s Digital FSM Project that is tasked with providing competitive services in telecommunications as mandated by the World Bank’s 2017 and 2020 FSM grants totaling $94 million.
Funded by the World Bank , the 2017 grant required the establishment of an open access entity to insure a competitive environment. Operated through FSM Telecommunications Cable Corp., the owners of the FSM government’s cable, the national government’s Digital FSM Project also advances the World Bank’s funding goal of assisting FSM “in overcoming its challenges of remoteness and dispersed geography.”
iBoom Waab is currently awaiting the arrival of temporary cables that they will install on Yap during the first phase toward building out a permanent, resilient fiber-to-the-home network that will be undertaken by FSMTCC.
The task of replacing the old copper wiring with optic fiber cable to each home, office and school will be underwritten with an estimated $2 million provided by FSMTCC for the Yap project alone.
No additional state or national funding will be required and it will create local jobs during and after the installation.
Universal Communications Group (UCG), an Australasian company, won the contract to design the fiber-to-the-home network in three of FSM’s four states.
“Our initial objective is to simply level the playing field for locals and set higher standards of service in telecommunications,” said Falanruw. “But our mission and vision are much broader. We will be creating an environment that will bring in more jobs with career paths, foster local innovations and entrepreneurs, and bring in revenue from outside FSM.”
“We are ready to take on the challenge of being change agents, maintaining our integrity while balancing modern technology with our traditions,” he continued. “But we could not do any of this without the incredible support of all our leaders, from President Panuelo and Secretary Apis, and many others at national, to our Yap State Government and its executive, legislative and judicial branches, as well as our two traditional Councils of Chiefs.”
Falan’s vision of sustainable development is aligned with the national government’s goal to introduce competition into the nation’s telecommunications market in order to ensure that the country’s residents benefit from new technologies and the opportunities it can bring to people’s lives and the economy.
“This is a way of introducing new players into our market to make sure that there’s competition, and that there are options for our citizens in the telecommunications field,” said FSM President David W. Panuelo.
“The exciting aspect is the development and jobs that iBoom is planning to bring,” added Carlson D. Apis, Secretary for the Department of Transportation, Communications and Infrastructure.
Falanruw said this will be the first time a whole new digital economy will be created in FSM.
“The beauty of what we are doing is harnessing the latest internet technologies to take giant leaps ahead, using both technology models and proven methods that can be easily shared across FSM’s states and our sister island nations," he said.
"I believe this will become the global Pacific alternative to old school development options, in which we have a thriving economy, and where lands and cultural identities are kept in place and in the hands of our fellow citizens. We get to see ahead to the future and do things differently.”