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ASTCA signs with O3b Networks for broadband

The American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) and O3b Networks have signed agreements for O3b Networks to provide up to 1.2Gbps of future broadband connectivity for Internet and other services for American Samoa starting in 2013, the two organizations announced yesterday. This move has the potential to double the current capacity for American Samoa. ASH cable has a capacity of 1.0Gbps.

How will this massive upgrade be accomplished? O3b Networks is launching a Middle Earth Orbit constellation of satellites that deliver fiber speed and satellite reach for Pacific Island nations. Because O3b satellites are situated in orbit at only 8062 km (a little over 5,000 miles) over the planet, they are 4 times closer than the geosynchronous satellites that have served American Samoa in the past. This proximity dramatically reduces roundtrip delay for voice calls and web surfing. O3b says the constellation will be ready for service in the third quarter of this year.

Today, the territory is served by a single submarine fiber optic cable. The performance of the O3b satellite link will be protected by a state of the art, dual 7.3-meter antenna array at the ASTCA Ili'ili Teleport. Samoa News understands the equipment is ordered and the site is currently being prepped.

The increase in capacity will enable ASTCA and other service providers to offer more broadband-based services to the residents of American Samoa, the announcement says.

John Finney, Chief Commercial Officer for O3b Networks stated, “We are thrilled to be a part of ASTCA’s plan to provide affordable, state-of-the-art broadband capacity to all citizens, visitors and businesses in American Samoa. O3b expects 2013 will mark the beginning of a long and prosperous partnership with ASTCA.”

Aleki Sene, Sr., Executive Director of ASTCA said, “This deal marks a significant improvement in broadband accessibility in American Samoa. The O3b service diversifies our route with plenty of low latency capacity.

Wikipedia explains that low latency capacity allows human-unnoticeable delays between an input being processed and the corresponding output providing real time characteristics. This can be especially important for Internet connections utilizing services such as online gaming and movie viewing and VOIP (internet phone calls like SKYPE).

According to ASTCA, they will continue to serve customers via their submarine fiber optic commitments on the ASH cable; however, on the first day the O3b constellation is operational, ASTCA will double the broadband capacity available to territory residents. The new capacity will improve network speeds, network reliability, and will provide a backup, should the submarine fiber optic system fail.”

One of the reasons for the lack of broadband penetration in American Samoa, which was surveyed to be at 4.5% Internet penetration, has been the expensive nature of the backhaul. (Backhaul generally refers to the side of the network that communicates with the global Internet.)

Both traditional satellite and submarine fiber optic solutions have been priced well outside of affordable for the local economy. The agreement between ASTCA and O3b changes the broadband landscape significantly by bringing fiber optic capacities at prices and terms that are affordable and economically feasible for the islands' service providers. ASTCA may extend the benefits of 03b capacity to serve all of Samoa.

In July of last year Samoa News reprinted with permission an article by Darren Murph of Headlined “The most expensive internet in America: fighting to bring affordable broadband to American Samoa” it includes an interview with Daniel Calarco of One Economy, the organization that mapped American Samoa’s broadband infrastructure and created a report about the barriers to internet adoption in the territory for the US Dept. of Commerce. Calarco said the reason why costs are so high have to do with what's called 'middle-mile connectivity’, the connections between the broadband service provider and the Internet.

This is the problem that the association with O3b Networks intends to solve.

Obviously a selling point for O3b to extend the project to include American Samoa and a contract with ASTCA is ASTCA’s BLAST project that is wiring American Samoa fiber optically. It is funded by a $10 million loan plus an $80 million+ grant through the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Broadband Initiatives Program.

Samoa News understands ASTCA has been aggressively pursuing a lower cost access to bandwidth than what is available from ASH cable for more than a year — due to one of the contractual conditions of the BLAST project grant funding of $80 million it has accepted and started commissioning.

The condition is that ASTCA must improve broadband capacity up to 3 times greater than it currently offers, at the same price it presently charges.

Samoa News has been told that ASTCA has purchased 3 blocks of bandwidth — DS3 — from ASH cable, which has a bandwidth capacity of 45 megs each. The price tag is estimated by industry insiders at $60- $80,000 per month, and the contract ties ASTCA into a 10-year term per DS3.

The new O3b Networks access price is touted by ASTCA as obviously lower, and Samoa News understands there will be enough bandwidth at a reasonable price to give residential customers on the new BLAST network that ASTCA is building out now, greatly increased kbps for the same price they currently pay for 256 kbps.

The combination of BLAST and the Middle Earth Orbit constellation of satellites will increase demand for service and hopefully ASTCA will focus its resources on ways to help the private sector turn this bandwidth into ways to develop business, beyond email and social networking.

And that’s one of the points Calarco brought up in his interview. He pointed out that the lack of high speed Internet has had a profound effect on the American Samoa economy. Failed call center start-ups cited the prohibitive cost of broadband as the single greatest barrier to starting call center businesses.

Likewise Samoa News has found unreliable broadband the main roadblock to developing an in the ‘clouds’ operation on the cutting edge of newspaper and web paper development.


O3b Networks Ltd. is a global satellite service provider building a next-generation satellite network for telecommunications operators, Internet service providers, enterprise and government customers in emerging markets.

The O3b system will combine the global reach of satellite with the speed of a fiber‐optic network providing billions of consumers and businesses in nearly 180 countries with low‐cost, high‐speed, low latency Internet and mobile connectivity. O3b Networks’ investors are SES, Google, Liberty Global, HSBC Principal Investments, Northbridge Venture Partners, Allen & Company, Development Bank of Southern Africa, Sofina, Satya Capital and Luxempart. O3b Networks is headquartered in St. John, Jersey, Channel Islands.

The name "O3b" stands for "[The] Other 3 Billion", referring to the population of the world where broadband Internet is not available without help.

Samoa News Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley contributed to this report.