United States has approved the use of $7 million dollars from the Palau Compact Review Agreement (CRA)to help fund the second submarine fiber optic cable to Palau.The grant will fund the fiber optic spur connecting Palau to the ECHO cable network for connectivity redundancy and resiliency.
Belau Submarine Cable Corporation sought to bring the second cable for redundancy and resiliency purposes. “Cable cuts are not common but they do happen. We have seen what happened to our neighbors in the region and the impact it had on them and we want to avoid that scenario,” expressed Robin Russell, Chief Executive Officer of BSCC.
Connected by a single submarine cable to the rest of the world, Palau is vulnerable to potential disruptions of service for an extended period of time should that single connectivity is cut. In 2015 CNMI experienced submarine cable cut which affected not only its communications but critical services such as banking. In 2019, the Marshall Islands also had a similar incident which caused the island to switch temporarily back to satellite connectivity which was only 3% of their normal capacity. Disconnection lasted nearly a month with basic email and no social media.
The plans to seek loans to cover the estimated $30 million dollar cost were put on hold when COVID-19 virus pandemic was declared.
BSCC temporarily downsized its plans to just secure the branching unit to the ECHO cable until situation changes and funds can be acquired according to its CEO Robin Russell.
Australian government agreed with Palau that this was a national priority project and worked with Palau government and BSCC to provide grant for the branching unit.
United States also strongly supported Palau’s national priority and approved the financial support of the project.
“Secretary Bernhardt and I are pleased to support the Republic of Palau, on behalf of the Administration, and have approved the use of $7 million in Compact infrastructure grant assistance towards a second fiberoptic cable spur connection to Palau,” said Douglas W. Domenech, Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs. “Strong fiber-optic connectivity for Palau has been described by Palau President Remengesau as a national priority and is critical for continued economic development for the island nation and its people.”
In addition to CRA grant, United States through its USAID is partnering with Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific and Japan Bank for International Cooperation to help fund the second submarine cable connectivity.
Olbiil era Kelulau passed a resolution approving BSCC’s request to obtain $1.7 million dollar loan backed by Government of Palau, as equity in pursuit of full connectivity.
Current capacity usage for Palau is around 8Gigabytes and the current contracted satellite capacity by PNCC for back up is 150 megabytes, which is nearly 2% of current demand. Although this capacity can be increased in time of emergency, it will not reach the same level of current demand. Should a cable cut occurred, the available capacity will be prioritized to basic services and most of what people are already used to and depend such as online banking, messaging, social media and other applications will not be available until the submarine cable connection is restored.