The 2,200 British residents of the Isles of Scilly are to enjoy high-speed broadband from 2014, thanks to a £3.7 million scheme funded by bodies in the UK and Europe, reports Christian Von Der Ropp of the Connect St Helena campaign.
Island councillor Mike Hicks said it would bring a more prosperous future, helping tourism, farming and education.
“Meanwhile,” says Christian, “St Helena, which is significantly more isolated, has a population almost twice as large that is expected to grow once its airport becomes operational in 2016, struggles to secure £10 million for its link to the planned South Atlantic Express cable.”
Hopes of bringing high-speed internet access to St Helena have been given a strong boost with reports of a contract deal.
The plan involves connecting the island to an undersea cable that eFive Telecoms wants to lay between South Africa and Brazil.
The company has now awarded a contract to supply nearly ten thousand kilometres of fibre optic cable for the South Atlantic Express (SAEx) project.
From Brazil, onward fast access to North America and Asia would be possible.
A spur from the telecoms cable could be run to St Helena – but only if funding can be raised.
St Helena Government has confirmed in the past that the idea was being actively pursued.
It is understood to have been cautiously interested from the early stages. The project was then pushed into prominence when German telecoms expert Christian von der Ropp launched the Connect St Helena! campaign.
He pushed for Saints to gain better internet access as a human right, and secured international media coverage.
Reports have put the cost of linking the island to the cable at several million pounds.
Supporters have argued that high speed internet is vital to the island’s hoped-for tourism boom.
The island currently relies on a satellite connection, giving slow download speeds by global standards, even for customers paying hundreds of pounds a year.
eFive Telecoms is reported to have been issued with the licences it needs, valid for 20 years.
Financial arrangements are not expected to be finally sealed until a few months into 2013. Funders have not been named.
The campaign to divert an underwater internet cable via St Helena continues to attract publicity around the world. The latest report is on the Computer Active website, which compares the island with an English village.
It quotes Julian Morris, chief executive for economic development on St Helena, who says: “There would need to be support from the British Government. You wouldn’t lay a submarine cable to a village in the UK and we have to be mindful of what’s realistic.
“It is something I’m working hard to make happen.”
St Helena Online understands that the idea is being pursued by officials at the Department for International Development in London, because of the economic importance to bringing high-speed internet to the island.
If this happens we may get faster Internet, but will we get cheaper Internet? We currently pay £120 a month(+10% tax) for a package that in a developed country would cost perhaps £10. Until that price comes down it won’t matter how wide the pipe, many people still won’t be able to afford to connect.
St Helena’s not the only remote island that can’t get broadband internet – but some of the more sparsely-populated outcrops of the British Isles may have found a way round the problem.
It’s called “white space” (whatever that is), and so far it’s reaching just ten homes fitted with special aerials on the Scottish island of Bute – which is bigger than St Helena, has twice as many people, and is nowhere near as isolated.
The small transmitter takes advantage of spare “spectrum” no longer needed for television broadcasts, according to BBC News.
In the meantime, if the Connect St Helena! campaign succeeds in diverting an undersea cable, it seems St Helena might actually be better off than many of those remote Scottish islands.
That’s if it isn’t already…
Could White Space help St Helena? “The short answer is ‘no’,” says Christian von der Ropp of Connect St Helena! campaign. And here’s the long answer:
“White Space” and “Digital Dividend” (N.B. not “Digital Divide”) refer to radio frequencies originally allocated to terrestrial TV broadcast service which have remained unused and instead are to be used to deliver broadband Internet to homes lacking a wired broadband connection, usually because the distance to next telephone switch is too great for telephone-line based ADSL-service. However whatever radio technology is deployed (UMTS or LTE) in this unused frequency spectrum (spectrum = a certain frequency range) it can only bridge some 10-15km and so can only serve the so-called “last mile”. These frequencies would only be suitable to deliver Internet from a radio tower on St Helena to Saints’ homes but cannot bridge those thousands of kilometres to the next large Internet hub (Luanda or Cape Town).
Internet access on St Helena is extremely slow and few islanders can afford to pay Cable & Wireless £120 a month for unlimited access. The government is investigating connection to a new undersea cable. Read our latest story – then comment, below:
Firstly I would like to express my concerns about the lack of competition for internet/telephone usage on St Helena. I think it is appalling in this day and age that one company should have the monopoly of this said service. With fibre-optic cable being laid to St Helena I know that it will make internet and telephone usage better but will it be cheaper for the people of St Helena? It’s no good having this put in place and the locals still can’t afford to pay for it. Cable & Wireless offers internet and telephone service by satellite which should be cheaper knowing that their network is internal but laying cable to St Helena is a lot of miles and as far as I can see someone will have to pay for it in the long run!!! Personally I have a 20+ year old son, my mum and family on the island who I can’t speak to because of the prices, even sending a photo of my boys to my mum crashed her computer and takes all the megabytes, then she can’t access any more e-mails etc… so my mum asked me not send any more photos as she is only allowed certain amount of usage!! Also the children on the island are losing out on so much information via the internet. My boys live on the computer; gone are the days when you need books for school or information. The internet is so vast and St Helena really needs this for medical, education, business and communication!!
Allan Stroud, UK
I have family there [in St Helena] but they can’t afford what Cable & Wireless offers…£120.00 a month for limited access it’s disgusting. My sister has three young boys and one of them is my godson; she can’t afford the prices so I don’t get to hear from them or see photos of them. I can’t send photos as it uses their megabytes therefore restricting their usage of social networking as well. Children could learn so much from having internet usage at their finger tips especially living in such an isolated place, where we can’t even afford to visit but that’s another rip-off story concerning St Helena.
Natasha Stroud, UK
Broadband in St Helena is a MUST! Airport and broadband brings tourism, without broadband tourism will be limited, though I would hate to see typical British idiots abroad come to our beautiful island! Broadband would be a major step forward for our very primitive health system, and education! Please not ponder over this issue for many years wasting millions before it got under way like the airport project! British Goverment should be responsible for this! We are a very patriotic colony would not like to be recognized as a Third World country. Saints living abroad like myself are very limited to how often we can telephone our families due to ludicrus expensive phone charges, so forget the pen pushing and make a decision fast.
I am amazed that internet isnt a priority with the airport on the horizon. How will the airport operate with out proper communications. St Helena is looking for inward investment but this is not possible with out proper robust communications ie internet SHG can forget about inward investors if the internet dont improve. I think the UK government should help to pay for better broadband as part of the infrastructure improvement for the residents of St Helena. This is the last place on earth that a government gives the sole right to one company to provide a internet service. I think if SHG wants inward investment maybe another internet provider for the island of St Helena is good start.
St. Helena does not currently have a Broadband connection, by any currently acceptable definition. It has an ADSL service that is called Broadband by its provider, but which – even in its most expensive form – is slower than the lowest speed considered anywhere else to constitute Broadband, and has severe capacity limitations. Burgh House Limited supports any project to introduce true broadband to St. Helena: please see our website at http://burghhouse.com/news.htm for our detailed views.
– John Turner, St Helena
What does St Helena’s broadband situation mean to you? Is it just part of the price of living in a very remote place? Tell us your views:
The cost of connecting St Helena up to an undersea internet cable would be “very substantial”, according to the island government. It has confirmed that it is investigating the idea.
But the man behind the Connect St Helena campaign has challenged a claim – from an unnamed source – that the price could reach $50 million. Christian von der Ropp says it could cost only a tenth of that figure, after which it should cost around the same as the current satellite link.
St Helena – one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands – currently receives very limited bandwidth via satellite.
Islanders can pay just under £20 a month for “Lite” internet access, allowing them to download less data than iPhone owners generally use, according to figures on the campaign website. They would have to pay five times what UK web users pay for a similar amount of data.
But the average salary on St Helena is £4,500, well under a fifth of the UK average – meaning the cost of internet, compared with average salary, is more than 25 times higher than in the UK – for a much slower service.
It was disclosed in the UK parliament on 13 March 2012 that St Helena Government (SHG) was exploring a way to secure cheaper internet for the island, bringing a fast connection within the reach of ordinary islanders.
‘We can’t afford to talk to our families’
Read comments, and add your own below
It was not made clear whether the plan was to try to link to a proposed undersea cable between South Africa and America.
The cable was initially set to pass several hundred miles north of St Helena. The Connect St Helena campaign has been pressing for it to “land” on the island, or for a spur to be added linking Jamestown to the cable.
A statement from The Castle in Jamestown said:
“The island already has broadband provided by Cable & Wireless. SHG is in discussion with C&W regarding a possible new licence and one of the elements being considered is an improvement on the current broadband offering.
“SHG is also in discussions with the providers of the proposed South Atlantic Express submarine cable to see if it might be viable for a spur from this to serve St Helena.
“The potential costs involved in this project are very substantial and any decision would depend on many different elements, including the overall financial viability of the proposed cable.”
Mr von der Ropp, an island-watcher in Germany who launched the Connect St Helena campaign, says that St Helena Government initially had problems communicating with eFive, the company behind the cable project.
“What we know is that shortly after we launched our campaign, eFive Telecoms expressed readiness to route the cable via St Helena.” From that point, he says, SHG has succeeding in having talks with the company.
It had been reported in the media that it would not be possible to route the cable via St Helena, but Mr von der Ropp says eFive’s current chief executive has asked three cable-laying firms to quote prices for doing just that.
“She promised me to provide more precise cost estimates once they have received offers from all potential cable builders,” he says in an email to consultants in the United States who have taken an interest.
“Our current figure of costs amount to mid-single digit millions of British pounds.” That figure is based on discussion with an industry source, says Mr von der Ropp.
One potential stumbling block could be the commercial interests of Cable & Wireless, which has an exclusive contract to provide communications for St Helena. Its position has not yet been made public.
Mr von der Ropp – who has never been to St Helena – first heard about its poor internet service from a friend, Thomas Fledrich, a space scientist who lived on the island in 2009.
He says he “has become fascinated by this picturesque island and its small population” – ironically, through information found on the internet.
The campaign website has a link to an American organisation that presses for wider access to the internet for remote communities as a human right, “and a basic requirement for education, health and democracy as well as for cultural and economic development.”