Founder of Connect the Blue Continent, Chris Sampson, was a delegate to the recent annual general meeting in Marshall Islands of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures.
He made a plea for Pacific island governments to prioritise internet infrastructure, systems and skills development.
“The theme was transportation and communications so there was quite a lot of discussion on the need to prioritise affordable internet access for the region and how we might go about doing that,” Sampson said.
Presentations included details about the new generations of Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite technology which is better-suited for high-speed internet access than the current geo-stationery telecommunication satellites.
“They're better designed to deliver a fibre-optic-cable-style of service but the beauty of this sort of technology is that you don't need to roll out such a huge capital project to get cable stretched across this great Pacific Ocean,” he said.
“It doesn't provide the capacity or the reliability of fibre-optic cable but in a mesh, together with fibre-optic, it really allows you to have much more complete coverage.
“I think that particular technology is very promising and is already commercially available.”
Another emerging option is the Google Loon Project.
“This is more of an experiment. It's very fascinating," Mr Sampson said.
“It's actually the idea of floating balloons up into the high atmosphere and having those balloons have sensors onboard to deliver a 3G-like wifi service.
The idea is that you can very easily deploy large numbers of these balloons and have those balloons provide a saturated internet service.”
One of Sampson's main concerns is that the Pacific region is lagging behind the rest of the world due to its unique geography.
“There are many small communities in extremely far-flung and distant places and I think [the Pacific] has been the slowest in the world to adopt internet technology,” Sampson said.
“In other continents, they have shared national planning in place for roads and pipelines, for telegraph wires and so on.
“The Pacific hasn't had that sort of planning which is why it's so important that there is some master planning exercise supported for this region to bring its digital-age infrastructure up to speed.”
Sampson believes it's a matter of survival as trade moves more and more into the online space and the challenge of running sustainable health and education services continues to grow.
“As these nations face navigating the future, it's really a question of how do they survive culturally intact with their island lifestyle but still being able to develop a standard of living and an ability to prosper economically and have wellbeing within their communities,” he said.
“Without the internet I do fear a new wave of poverty, really driven by the digital divide where the youngsters are striving for jobs and tend to move away in order to get to those jobs.
“What everybody I talk to across the community wants to see is the availability of jobs and the availability of sustainable ways of living but being able to stay in their island settings.”
MAJURO, (RADIO AUSTRALIA)