US jumpstarts plan to build subsea cable between Guam and American Samoa
Washington seeks to accelerate the Pacific island region's digital expansion
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency has awarded a grant to Tuvalu Telecom Corp. for a feasibility study to support the development of the Central Pacific Cable between Guam and American Samoa.
The subsea cable between the two U.S. territories would complete the triangle with Hawaii and would extend to 12 Pacific island countries.
The U.S. is seeking to expand its fiber optic map in the Pacific region to hold China in check and prevent it from laying more undersea cables.
The federal trade agency awarded the grant following the White House's announcement last month about an initial investment of up to $3 million for a feasibility study for the new Central Pacific Cable.
Tuvalu Telecom Corp. selected Florida-based APTelecom LLC to conduct the study. The cable would be the first subsea cable connection to Tuvalu, which currently relies on satellite connectivity.
“Increasing access to secure, high-speed connectivity in the Pacific islands is a priority for USTDA, the U.S. government, and our Pacific island partners,” said Enoh T. Ebong, USTDA’s director.
During the Second U.S.-Pacific Islands Summit last month, White House officials announced the administration's plan to request $12 million from the U.S. Congress to support the demand for additional secure communications technology infrastructure investments in the region.
“This project will provide critical internet capacity to create economic opportunities and improve lives. This grant is just one example of USTDA’s commitment to promoting resilient, quality digital infrastructure in the region using U.S.-based solutions," Ebong said.
According to USTDA, the study "will create a high-level design for the Central Pacific Cable and assess its technical and commercial feasibility for TTC."
Once completed, the cable would connect American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.
“For far too long, Tuvalu has grappled with limited access to information, restricted economic opportunities, and challenges in accessing essential services,” said Tenanoia Simona, general manager of TTC.
Simona said the lack of a submarine cable infrastructure has marginalized Pacific communities, impeding their ability to thrive in the digital landscape.
“As we embark on this journey, let us remember that the power of connectivity extends beyond the technical aspects of the project,” Simona said. “It embodies the principles of unity, equality, and empowerment.”
She added that the benefits "will ripple through education, healthcare, commerce, governance and cultural preservation" and will "foster innovation, sustainability, and inclusivity."
“The United States, alongside our Quad allies, supports the building of trusted, high-quality subsea cables that transform digital access in the Pacific islands,” said Marie Damour, U.S. ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, Nauru and Tuvalu.
“This grant is a demonstration of the U.S. government’s commitment to forming partnerships and expanding critical infrastructure in this important sector,” she added.
Washington officials also said the U.S. intends to provide an additional $2.5 million to continue U.S. support for the $70 million East Micronesia Cable in partnership with Australia and Japan, on top of its prior $20 million commitment.
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."
The cable provides digital connectivity for Kiribati, Nauru and the state of Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia by linking them with the existing HANTRU-1 undersea cable that connects Guam and the Marshall Islands.
"Working with Congress, USAID intends to invest an additional $2 million to accelerate the region’s digital transformation and provide more reliable and affordable connectivity by supporting the effective deployment of undersea cables and complementary satellite technologies through industry partners," the White House said.
"USAID also intends to assist countries as they implement their respective national broadband plans, including assisting with the transition from 3G-4G infrastructure to 5G, adopting Open RAN in their network deployments, and increasing cybersecurity readiness of key critical infrastructure."