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ASTCA wants to borrow more money to fund its projects

American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) CEO, Puleleiite Tufele Li’a Jr. appeared before the House Telecommunications Committee for a hearing last week.  [photo: AF]
Includes funding Hawaiki Cable and Tui Cable connections

While the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) is planning to use both Tui Samoa and Hawaiki Cable, CEO Puleleiite Tufele Li’a Jr. said he will recommend to the American Samoa Government to stay with Hawaiki Cable — not only is it cheaper but its capacity is big enough to cover internet services around the island.

Members of Hawaiki Cable will be arriving on island this week, to sign an agreement with ASG — and afterwards, Puleleiite said ASTCA will then announce to the public why they believe Hawaiki Cable is more advanced than the Tui Samoa Cable.

That was  Puleleiite's testimony before the House Communications Committee last week, during a hearing to discuss some of the issues pertaining the ASTCA’s operations.

The hearing was chaired by Committee vice chairman, Rep. Vailoata E. Amituana’i.

According to Puleleiite, ASTCA is one of the authority’s the government is relying on in terms of financial needs, because it had strong revenue collections in the past.

Although he did not elaborate on the exact current financial situation of ASTCA, he told the committee that things have changed since he was appointed to lead the operation, adding that for the month of September only, the office budget will now be back to black again.

“These are the only information [sic] I can provide for you, but if you want to hear more about ASTCA operations — only Governor Lolo can provide such information," Puleleiite told faipule, adding that the information he is providing is based on the time since his appointment.

Rep. Sataua Dr. Mataese Samuelu wanted the CEO to elaborate on why ASG has submitted a proposal to the Samoa Submarine Cable to become part of the Tui Samoa Consortium, as he believes ASTCA should stay with the service that Hawaiki Cable would provide us.

Puleleiite said the two new undersea fiber optic cables will provide fast internet service for the people, businesses community — for everyone.

“The reason why the internet service is slow now is because there’s not enough bandwidth from the existing American Samoa Hawaii Cable. Its capacity has maxed out, and going with Samoa’s Tui Samoa Cable is the fastest solution to the bandwidth problem,” Puleleiite said.

He told representatives that ASG has submitted a proposal to the Samoa Submarine Cable to become part of the Tui Samoa Consortium.

“While ASTCA is planning to sign on to Samoa’s new undersea fiber optic cable, which is due to go online January 2018, we will also honor an agreement that the former Board of Directors of ASTCA signed with Hawaiki Cable, which is scheduled to launch service in mid 2018. As you are aware, our internet service is so slow. The current American Samoa Hawaii Cable has only provided 400megabytes, and from the O3B network 145 MB, with just 1 gigabyte of capacity shared by both Samoa and American Samoa. The Tui Samoa cable will provide 10 gigabytes,” Puleleiite explained.

When asked by Rep. Timusa Tini Lam Yuen whether ASTCA has enough revenues to cover the cost of both cables, Puleleiite responded said no — it is looking for another loan to cover the cost.

“ASTCA is in the process of obtaining a second loan from the American Samoa Government Employees' Retirement Fund, to assist us in funding some of the critical projects that need to be completed, and projects that ASTCA is planning in relation to undersea fiber optic infrastructure,” Puleleiite said.

Although he did not reveal the loan amount, Puleleiite told the committee that ASTCA is planning to submit a loan application this month, when all the needed information is put together.

Asked about the status of the first loan obtained from the ASG Retirement Fund last year, Puleleiite said the loan has a balance of $3.2 million left on the  $4.7 million loan and payments are good.

He also spoke about plans involving the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), and also upgrading the mobile phone network.

One of the questions that was asked during the hearing had to do with the total number of ASTCA workers who were told to retire. Rep. Sataua wanted to know if the new CEO is willing to fill these positions.

Puleleiite confirmed that 7 workers were told to retire, and there is no intention to fill these vacant positions.

Sataua also asked Puleleiite to clarify why ASTCA is not receiving any dividends from the $9 million that the government invested in the American Samoa Hawaii Cable.

While he predicts dividends will be paid, Puleleiite told the committee that a firm answer to the question should come straight from the governor.

Vailoata reminded Puleleiite the concerns from government leaders about security issues, if American Samoa connects with the Tui Samoa cable.

He said this is one of the major issues ASG is trying to secure — to make sure that all information we’re going to share while using the undersea fiber optic cable is secure and protected.

Puleleiite assured the committee that information passed between American Samoa and the United States is well secured, and added that the internet connection with undersea fiber optic cable uses 5 different layers for communication — layer 3 up to 5 are well secured, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given approval — of these layers for ASG.