Mobile phone masts could soon be springing up across St Helena (except on the bits that are to have wind turbines).
On Tuesday, 26 June 2012, executive councillors agreed the terms of a new telecommunications licence that should bring mobile phone technology to Jamestown, Half Tree Hollow and – who knows? – maybe even Sandy Bay.
“Full details of the agreement will be announced shortly,” reported governor Mark Capes, “but it combines price reductions with a significant improvement in services and new investment to allow for the introduction of mobile phones.”
If the Oberoi luxury hotel group agrees to run Shelco’s hotel at Broad Bottom, it will certainly want the kind of phone technology it already uses in some of the poorest parts of the world.
For Basil Read, it will be too late: there are no telephones out on Prosperous Bay Plain, where it will be building the island’s airport for the next three years, so it has brought in its own mobile phone equipment, linked to a service provider in South Africa.
And for Johnny Clingham, a St Helenian telecoms expert based in the UK, mobile phone coverage may not be enough to bring him home.
“I think it’s something that we need to have that would be beneficial,” said Johnny, speaking from Amsterdam, where he was on a trip to research high-speed communication. “But it’s the internet we want improvement on.
“We need to see what the improvements are. Until we see the full report on what they are going to get and whether other providers will come in, we don’t know whether it’s going to meet our needs.
“Mobile phones are great, but the quality of internet service is what we need.”
Cable & Wireless has exclusive contracts to provide communications and a TV service on St Helena. At a recent executive council (ExCo) meeting, councillors voiced disquiet about the service, and the high price of phone calls and a very slow internet connection.
The company’s licences expire on 31 December 2012.
Governor Capes said lengthy negotiations gained momentum when the UK government agreed to fund the island’s airport.
“That decision means that the future market for telecoms on St Helena looks much more attractive for Cable & Wireless,” he said. “Subject to a few minor amendments, ExCo approved the licences.”
Living here for the last couple of months it’s been quite a treat NOT to have the mobile going and feel the ‘need’ to check the phone every 5 minutes. Over dinner the other night we all agreed that the lack of smart phones in particular was a good thing – there was no anti-social updating of Facebook or Twitter. Shock, horror…you actually spoke to the people you were out with. I guess progress comes with a price though?
– Suzie Pearson, St Helena
Three months on St Helena – blog