|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
Tonga is far away from large economies in the region (Australia and New Zealand) and has a small population of 102,000 spread across 48 inhabited islands out of 171 islands. About 70% of the population is in Tongatapu where the capital city of Nuku'alofa is located. Main economic activities include fishery, agriculture, and tourism. Tonga's small size and distance from large markets do not allow the people to exploit economies of scale. A narrow resource base and small market have resulted in a highly undiversified economy. Remittances from about 100,000 Tongans overseas account for an estimated 30% of the gross domestic product. As the global economic slowdown affected the principal remittance-sending countries (Australia, New Zealand, and the United States), remittances are expected to fall by an estimated 18% in FY2010, following a decline of 12.5% in FY2009. Lack of economic opportunity within the country resulted in migration from rural to urban areas, and overseas.
Tonga's isolation and other constraints to economic development may be mitigated in part by improved access to and more affordable telecommunications, especially high-speed (broadband) internet, which offers new economic opportunities both domestically and internationally and new avenues for delivery of services. A recent World Bank study indicates that a 10% increase in broadband penetration results in a 1.38% increase in gross domestic product growth in low and middle income countries. Such impacts result from (i) reduced transaction costs for business, government, and household communications; (ii) new business opportunities such as investments in e-commerce and business process outsourcing facilities; and (iii) improved public service delivery, in particular to support e-education and e-health services. Affordable high speed internet services will also help Tongans maintain social cohesion with their relatives residing abroad.
Tonga was the first country in the Pacific to liberalize its telecommunications sector. Since 2002, access to basic telecommunications has increased significantly. Mobile teledensity , at about 60%, is among the highest in the region; and local and international call tariffs are among the lowest in the Pacific. Internet penetration, however, remains low with about 2,500 subscribed broadband internet users. This is because of the high cost and limited availability of international bandwidth, resulting in congestion. Internet service is also open for competition and five internet service providers (ISPs) have been licensed. However, because of the high cost of satellite infrastructure and capacity leases, only two telecommunications operators are operational ISPs. The limited capacity and high cost of international bandwidth is the principal constraint to higher internet penetration, the introduction of new telecommunications services, and new market entrants. This is due to Tonga's total dependence on satellite connectivity. The current market price for two-way satellite capacity is about $3,600 per megabit per second per month. With normal growth, Tonga's bandwidth demand is projected to increase to 1.243 gigabits per second by 2032. With the current satellite capacity and price, it would be impossible to meet the growing demand.
In addition to the positive economic and social impact in Tonga, the submarine cable system will contribute to regional integration. It will increase the frequency and quality of communications among the countries in the region, thus increasing trade in services (tourism and back-office functions) and allowing the region to form a sizable market for digital products and services. It will also strengthen the existing regional public goods and encourage new ones by allowing countries to share the limited knowledge and human resources available in the Pacific.