Michels head gives update on fiber optic project
If everything goes as planned, American Samoa will have one of the best fiber optic cable systems in the world by this time next year.
This is according to Randy Thompson, the project engineer for Michels, a company based out of Brownsville, WI who are charged with laying the fiber optic cable system for the multi-million-dollar BLAST (Broadband Linking the American Samoa Territory) program that is being administered by the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA).
In a telephone interview with Samoa News last Friday, Thompson explained that he and some colleagues arrived in the territory last October to set up the staging area and ready their equipment and materials for the project.
By mid-January, the project commenced with an off-island crew of approximately 25 from Michels. However, there was need for extra manpower, and Thompson said that is why they had no choice but to hire locals and subcontract with local companies.
“In order for the project to be completed in a timely manner, we needed to hire more people,” he said. “The move is advantageous for us, as well as our customer (ASTCA)”.
So far, Michels has hired six local people, who are now working directly for the company. Another 40-45 contract employees have been hired from different local companies including Paramount Builders, Happy Trucking (Rainbow Corporation), and Maritime Construction.
Thompson said they have spoken with several other contractors and they intend to hire more people during their year-long stay in the territory.
Michels anticipates having their crew working here for 15-16 months, depending on how well the job progresses. As with all projects that involve drilling underground, Thompson said there are so many obstacles — beside the weather — that they have and will encounter during the course of the work, with the main obstacle being existing underground utilities.
“But we will continue to press on and do what we have to do to fulfill our goal, and that is, to build one of the best telephone, television, and internet fiber optic cable systems in the world,” he said.
Thompson said once their work is completed, hopefully by February 2015, “a high quality telephone, television and internet system will be in place, a system that will be much more advanced than what exists now”.
He added, “We want to leave behind a legacy for the people of American Samoa, especially the school children who are the ones that will benefit greatly from this new system.”
According to Thompson, not only are they proud to carry out the work they have been hired for, they also take pride in being able to provide jobs and training for locals who, once the project is completed, “will have gained a lot of knowledge in this field and in turn, they will be armed with skills that can benefit them for the rest of their lives.”
He continued, “By taking these locals and training them, American Samoa will have quality people to pick from when we are gone. These people who have been hired by us will know how to maintain the system and although there is no guarantee that they will have employment when the project is completed, at least they will have a vast knowledge of how and where everything was placed. They will definitely leave this job with something that can benefit them for life.”
Thompson is optimistic that the work will take another year. The Michels crew is finishing up their work in the Satala area, with splicers putting the cable together sometime this week.
Currently, the crew is concentrating on the Fagatogo and Tafuna areas. Thompson said that depending on the scheduling and funding, residents on the outer islands of Aunu’u and Manu’a will also see work being carried out there.
In the meantime, when he’s not at the Michels lot in Tafuna across from the Veterans Memorial Stadium, Thompson conducts ride-throughs at the different areas around the island, checking on the Michels crew, to make sure that everything is going as planned.
“We don’t want to get involved in anything political,” he said. “We just want to do our job, get the system up and running, and leave behind a great system for the Samoan people.”
Since relocating to the territory, Thompson said he has been able to do many exciting things, and one of them was participating in the palolo hunt late last year. “It was just a phenomenal event and we have come to enjoy the local people very much. Samoan people are great and they very much deserve this upgraded system.”
When contacted for comments, Paramount Builders owner Papali’i Laulii Alofa expressed his gratitude to Thompson and Michels “for giving our workers, especially our high school graduates, the opportunity to work for them so they can learn new skills and get much needed job experience.”
Papali’i said his workforce includes several young men, fresh out of high school, “and this is a great chance for them to learn a new trade and gain some knowledge that will benefit them in the future.”
The BLAST program, funded by the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS), will transform the territory’s legacy copper network into an advanced Fiber-To-The-Premises (FTTP) infrastructure. Simply put, local residents and businesses will have access to this world class network that will deliver significantly high-speed data, next generation voice services, and new Internet Protocol Television (IPTV).