House hears updates on post-Gita communication services from Bluesky and ASTCA
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — It was revealed during the House Communications Committee hearing on Monday that Bluesky Communications has — since Tropical Storm Gita — restored 93% of its cable service and 100% of its telephone service, while the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) is still trying to restore telephone service on Tutuila.
The hearing was called after faipule raised concerns and complaints on why communications were knocked out during TS Gita earlier this year in February.
ASTCA CEO Puleleiite Li’amatua Tufele Jr. along with representatives from Bluesky Communication fielded questions from committee members during the hearing.
According to testimony from Bluesky reps, they operate an outside cable plant comprising 150 miles of overhead coaxial cable and 50 miles of fiber cable. During Gita, the plant sustained heavy damages, which amounted to 30 miles out of the 150 miles of coaxial cable and 5 miles out of the 50 miles of fiber optics needing to be either replaced or repaired. This affected cable TV and home Internet service across the island.
Bluesky's Faimanifo Joe Tuiteleleapaga told faipule that although the company carries inventory cable as spares for normal service delivery, repair, and maintenance initiatives, the damage sustained exceeded normal operational stocks and the main challenge was acquiring and delivering the inventory needed to efficiently supply recovery plans. This contributed to delays in recovery efforts.
Bluesky’s mobile (cellular) sites — 32 in total — did not sustain any structural damage but they lost signal to some sites due to power outages and fiber transmission link failures connecting these sites to the main exchange located in Iliili. Periodic preventative maintenance and regular structural improvement programs were effective in maintaining structural integrity.
Right after Gita, their recovery teams were mobilized immediately to survey areas and remove/secure any cables or damaged infrastructure belonging to Bluesky that posed a threat to the public or other services.
Their assessments in all four zones revealed that there was major damage to fiber optics and multiple line breaks for zones 1-4, which consists of villages from Onenoa to Amanave.
As part of restoration of critical services, Tuiteleleapaga told the committee that the focus was mainly to recover cellular sites providing mobile services to enable First Responders a communication channel in their recovery efforts. The majority of mobile sites on island were recovered and restored within 14 days after Gita.
As of this week, 93% of cable services have been restored around the island, the remaining areas that will be fixed this week are Seetaga and Amanave.
According to Bluesky, Gita has taught them few lessons. It was revealed during their assessment that damages were caused by fallen trees and thick vegetation around the cable plant. (This has also been the case for other service providers.)
According to Bluesky, shifting overhead cables underground is a very expensive and an environmentally challenging task. They are seeking the government's assistance to have equal access to BLAST to mitigate this risk.
“Despite the challenges and constraints, this continues to be the primary focus and Bluesky remains committed towards ensuring all services and damaged cables are fixed,” Tuiteleleapaga said.
Puleleiite told the committee that ASTCA crews are still working very hard to restore landlines for telephone services around the island. So far, only 47% of landlines have been restored. One of the main reasons for the delay is that two of their main towers in Aunu’u and Lauli’i were destroyed during Gita, and communication for east side residents mainly depends on these two towers.
He said two new telephone towers have been ordered and will arrive on island by July.
When questioned by faipule on updates on the Tui Samoa and the Hawaiki cable, Puleleiite said the Hawaiki cable was due to arrive this past February but it was postponed and will arrive on April 10th, which is next week. It will take the whole month to install everything that’s needed to be done before the cable will be up and running.
For the Tui Samoa cable, Puleleiite told the committee that he signed an agreement with ASH cable last week in order for us to connect to the Tui Samoa cable, which has been up and running since February this year. ASTCA is making a monthly payment of $155,000 to ASH cable for use of the Tui Samoa cable.
The ASTCA CEO explained that the reason Internet service is slow now is because there’s not enough bandwidth. He said ASTCA has only 500+ megabytes of bandwidth — 400MB from the O3B network and 145MB from ASH cable, whose capacity is just 1GB, which shared by Samoa and American Samoa.
The Tui Samoa cable, according to him, will provide 10GB and using the Tui Samoa cable is the fastest solution to the bandwidth problem.
Saole faipule, Rep. Kitara Vaiau said that after Gita, a lot of wires were hanging around the island — in front of family homes, churches and even stores — and it distracts people who are driving on the road.
Several faipule praised both Bluesky and ASTCA, for their quick efforts to restore communication services immediately after Gita.