By Christian Patouraux
Connecting remote places and helping save lives is laudable work, but it also makes good commercial sense. This was the theme of my recent visit to Vanuatu for the official inauguration of the Maewo Telemedicine Project, which is powered by connectivity from Kacific.
The celebration took place at Naviso Village on Maewo Island, one of the most remote islands of the Vanuatu archipelago. The Naviso Village connection is part of a wider plan by the Vanuatu Government to achieve universal internet access for the people of Vanuatu by January 2018. We have worked closely with the Vanuatu Government to support their goal of universal access, and we are currently providing internet connectivity to 10 villages in remote regions of Vanuatu as part of a pilot project to create community health and learning centres. This makes economic and social sense for government; it also represents a viable business case for service providers.
While I was in Naviso Village I learnt that the telemedicine project had already contributed to saving the life of an expectant mother by enabling the nurse to access specialist advice in real-time from a doctor via the internet service provided by Kacific. A baby with a seriously infected leg was also able to receive specialist treatment, after a Skype call to a doctor. Providing life-saving services, whether through healthcare, emergency services or civil defence, is one of the most important items on government agendas, and substantial budgets are set aside for the purpose. The connectivity provided by Kacific is now becoming an integral part of the Vanuatu civil defence and public services.
Getting to Naviso Village requires a flight, then a truck ride, then an hour’s walk down a steep mountainside. The village is home to around 600 people and the main source of income is from growing coconuts for copra (dried coconut meat). A cargo boat comes every 2-3 months to collect the copra the villagers have grown, and the villagers also sell their produce to other communities around the mountain.
There is a school and a health care clinic in the village, but there are no telephone lines or mobile phone coverage. Before the Kacific connection, the only way of making contact with the outside world was to use a satellite phone – or to walk up and over the mountain to the main village of Kerepei. But now villagers can connect to the outside world using the computers or tablets at the village school. Some village families have purchased mobile phones so they can use the Kacific data connection to message or Skype people in other parts of Vanuatu.
Connectivity changes lives
What I saw while in Naviso Village was a vibrant community of people who are deeply rooted in their culture, but who are also eagerly embracing new forms of communication and access to information. They have a solid understanding of how internet connectivity can be used to improve the welfare of the community and to reduce risks.
Affordable and sustainable
I believe that the Naviso Village example is a strong proof point of Kacific’s vision to provide high-speed, low-cost broadband internet to the most underserved region in the world. With our cost structure and distribution model we can leverage the business opportunity of addressing the endemic lack of broadband supply in the Pacific.
This installation makes the case that the demand is there, and that Kacific can provide it at an affordable price. While the pilot project is a subsidised connection for one year, Naviso Village is a good example of the affordability of the Kacific connection.
We’ve looked at incomes in rural and remote parts of Vanuatu, and the combined income of families able to share a connection sits at around US$4,000 per year. If each group of families paid US$5 a month for the Kacific service, this equates to around 1.5% of the annual income for the group. This is comparable to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region where internet is considered affordable. For reference, figures from the World Bank show that broadband prices of between 1 and 5% of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita are found in China, Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam. By way of contrast, the price of internet connectivity in Vanuatu currently sits at over 40% of GNI p.c.
The communities in Vanuatu are able and willing to pay for the Kacific connectivity, meaning the Kacific service is an economically sustainable solution. And that makes it a market. We’ve looked very carefully at the market dynamics of remote and rural communities in the Pacific and beyond, and it is a huge market. We know that the Kacific solution is cost effective, sustainable and affordable for both the developing and the developed world. The connection into Vanuatu is just the beginning, as there are tens of thousands of villages similar to Naviso across Kacific’s target market.
Credit: Photos by Alexis Cullen, US Peace Corps.