Cable a game-changer for Solomons schools

Lisa Martin
(Australian Associated Press)


Students in a nation where most schools have no library will soon be able to access the internet for the first time in what will be an education game-changer for the Solomon Islands.

The Pacific island’s Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela sat down in Canberra with Malcolm Turnbull to discuss the high-speed underwater communications cable project on Wednesday.

He’ll be back in Australia in a few weeks to sign a deal.

He sees huge benefits from the project to help improve literacy levels as well as healthcare access.

“An operation can be conducted in a rural area with a doctor in Brisbane,” Mr Houenipwela said, during an address to the Australian National University.

Canberra will chip in two-thirds of the cost of the project to connect the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to Australia via fibre-optic cables to improve internet affordability and reliability

The cables will be able to carry up to 10 terabytes per second and are expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Money will come from the aid budget, however the exact cost has not been publicly released but there are estimates it could be up to $100 million.

Australia had been wary of Chinese company Huawei lining up to build the Solomon Island’s cables and elbowed it out of the way because of strategic concerns.

Mr Houenipwela remained tight-lipped over the security concerns.

“Looking at the two projects, from our perspective (the Australian one) is the best one,” he said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia’s cable proposal was cheaper, faster and technically superior to the Chinese bid.

“I want to ensure that countries in the Pacific have alternatives, that they don’t only have one option and no others,” Ms Bishop said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is weighing up whether Sydney, Townsville or the Sunshine Coast will be the best Australian link point.

Australia and Solomon Islands will jointly fund the construction of a domestic telecommunication cable network linking remote provinces to Honiara.

Australia’s aid budget for the Pacific country is $146.1 million in the next financial year.

Mr Turnbull also announced Australian support for establishing a new birthing centre to offer top health care to Solomon Islands women.

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