New hope of faster and cheaper internet access for St Helena has emerged in the House of Commons in London.
Members of Parliament have been told that St Helena Government (SHG) is trying to secure a high-speed broadband connection for the island, instead of having to rely on the Cable & Wireless satellite link.
The revelation has come from a government minister, and not from The Castle in Jamestown.
The island’s very limited bandwidth is seen by one expert as a threat to hopes of establishing a tourist economy on the island.
Johnny Clingham, who runs a St Helena community website in the UK, has said he cannot consider returning home to the island until it has full internet access. He welcomed news that it’s being explored.
“I can’t wait to see that,” he said. “I will certainly return to the island if this happens. Broadband will get me there faster than the airport project.”
It is not clear whether it relates to the Connect St Helena campaign to link to a broadband cable being laid between South Africa and America, passing within 50 miles of St Helena. Connecting the island would cost several million pounds.
The news emerged when Andrew Rosindell MP asked what steps were being taken to improve broadband internet provision in British overseas territories.
Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development, told the House: “Good connectivity is important for the aided overseas territories, especially for those which are particularly isolated and cannot easily link to regional providers.
“There is currently no broadband connection in any aided overseas territory.
“The Government of St Helena is exploring the feasibility and potential costs of connecting St Helena with broadband suppliers.
“In the meantime, the Department for International Development has paid for recent increases in bandwidth of the satellite telecommunications link to St Helena.
“This is helping students to benefit from distance learning opportunities and allows the hospital to connect to better health service information.”
Prince Andrew School offers some A level courses through distance learning, which involves students following lessons over the internet. The school’s internet connection is only just good enough for them to do this.
James Greenwood, the school’s IT (computer technology) teacher, has commented on the challenges on the internet messaging website, Twitter. Four and a half thousand people around the world follow his “tweets”.
He’s recently reported that a some educational technology can be “a non-starter” on the island. One message said: “We’re establishing links with Edge Hill Uni in the UK, but access is limited. Current Director of Ed is trying to improve.
“High-speed broadband would be huge for education. Not only could we make better use of online materials, but with affordable broadband teachers could develop their practice from home.”
He launched a petition on the UK Parliament website to press for the island to be linked to the new undersea cable.
On the Connect St Helena website, student Laura Lawrence has written: “I had to leave St Helena to study. Being 5000 miles away from my family and friends is hard. Not being able to skype with them due to the slow and expensive internet on St Helena is even harder.”
In January, telecoms expert Martin Sauter expressed dismay that St Helena’s 4,000 residents had to share a broadband connection that had less than half the bandwidth of his own connection at home.
“The British government wants to build an airport on St. Helena to stimulate tourism,” he wrote on a blog. “But really, who wants to go there when Internet connectivity is limited at best and your iPhone can’t communicate with the rest of the world?”
St Helena Government has been asked for further information.
Tristan da Cunha and Pitcairn also rely on satellite connections links, paid for by the UK government. “There are no plans to provide either territory with broadband connections,” Alan Duncan told MPs.