A Twenty-five year journey into telecommunications in the Pacific Islands
My twenty-five year journey into telecommunications in the Pacific Islands begun in April 1991 when I joined the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (Non-profit organzation in Japan) and was in charge of the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund. My predecessor left the foundation a few weeks before I arrived, and there were many ongoing projects. One of them was “USPNet upgrade proposal” (USP for University of the South Pacific). USPNet is the distance education network of USP and its 12 member countries from the South Pacific. (I will discuss this in detail in Chapter 6) from the University of South Pacific. A few months later we received another proposal from the University of Hawaii, “Policy Conference of PEACESAT” (This will also be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 6. PEACESAT stands for Pan-Pacific Education and Communication Experiments by Satellite).
My twenty-five year journey into telecommunications in the Pacific Islands, begun with study on both USPNet and PEACESAT, at that time I had only Master Degree on Education.
In 1992 I recommended to the board of committee of the Fund to provide a grant of a quarter of a million US dollars for a PEACESAT conference as the University of Hawaii requested. The Japanese government wanted to join this conference because at that time they had a satellite experiment project plan called “PARTNERS”. The Ministry of Post, who were in charge of national satellite and space research, also funded the conference almost the same amount of our grant. Thus with almost a half million US dollars budget, nearly 300 Pacific Islands educators and leaders gathered at Sendai, Tohoku, Japan (25-29 February, 1992), to discuss the policy of PEACESAT which had just re-started with a new second hand free satellite from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It was my first experience, and a shocking one, to witness the desperate need of telecommunication services in the Pacific Islands.
In 1993, after I studied on both USPNet and PEACSAT about one year and undersatood complexity of policies, politics, technologies, budget, and contents of dveloping distance eduction project, I launched the Distance Education Development Study for the Pacific Region within the Sasakawa Peace Foundation bringing together experts from Japan to evaluating and supporting the improvement of the USPNet proposal. After this study, under the direction of Mr Yohei Sasakawa, Chair of the board of commiittee of the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund at that time, I made the USPNet a Japanese ODA project. This project became as the main support measure of the first Pacific Islands Leaders Summit hosted by Japanese Government in 1997. I also launched the project to publish a book with key personnel from USPNet and PEACESAT as authors. “Distance Education in the South Pacific: Nets and Voyages” was published in 2000 from USP (Guy, Kosuge and Hayakawa 2000).
During my first seven years studying and supporting both USPNet and PEACESAT, I obtained a lot of information and knowledge. Also, I never read papers which discussed the politics and policies for developing telecommunications and distance education projects, but I read almost all papers that discussed satellite technologies and possible contents for distance education networks. However, at that time I already had a strong confidence through my experience to work with various stakeholders, that politics and policies are the keys for telecommunication development, rather than technologies, budget and other elements.
After the USPNet upgrade proposal became international ODA project of Japan, New Zealand and Australian governments, I wanted to summarise what I had done and found, then ascertain what I had to do in the next step by studying with international relations (political science) as an academic perspective.
In 1997, I started my second Masters study at Aoyama Gakuin University under the supervision of Professor Akio Watanabe. I argued that politics and policies are heavily entangling telecommunication development. This involved not only local politics but also high politics, such as the cold war background with satellite development and international politics. My Masters thesis tried to focus on these political discussions. In 1999, I finished my thesis which included the recommendation on Japan - United States cooperation for the telecommunication development of the Micronesian region in areas not covered by the University of South Pacific. That is, those areas where the people of Micronesia did not have access to higher education from their home countries.
In 2000, Japan hosted two events: in April the second Pacific Island Leaders Summit, and in July the G8 summit, both in Okinawa-Kyushu. Mr Sasakawa was asked by the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi to advice for the second Pacific Islands Leader Summit which was linked to the G8. One of the G8 summit outcomes was the IT Support Scheme with a budget of 15 billion USD (Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society 2000). The Pacific Islands Leader Summit also agreed to Implement the Pacific IT Promotion Projects (Pacific Common Frontiers Initiative Miyazaki Initiative 2000).
The Sasakawa Peace Foundation tried to support a proposal to the Japanese Government for the Distance Education in Micronesia which was developed by three Micronesian countries: Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Marshall Islands. However, the Japanese government declined the proposal. I found that the Japanese government, and more specifically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could not understand the need of the Micronesia, especially about the policies and political issues behind the telecommunication development. In 2002 I launched the study committee, ‘Pacific Islands Digital Opportunity Committee’, under a Board of Committee of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. This committee studied ICT for development (ICT4D) with a wide perspective, especially on policy issues. This committee also tried to support policy reform, especially in Micronesia. As the result there has been policy discussions such as discussion papers from the Republic of Palau under the initiative of Hon Sandra Perantozzi, the first woman Vice President of the Republic of Palau (2001-2004). The Federated States of Micronesia finally announced their ICT policy in 2014 with initiative of Hon. Francis Itimai, Secretary for Transportation, Communications, and Infrastructure of the Federated States of Micronesia, and passed their telecommunication deregulation bill in the same year.
Recently, towards the end of my thesis writing, the Republic of Palau needed to deregulated their telecommunication bill in order to get access to an Asia Development Bank loan to connect the international undersea telecommunications cable project. I provided intellectual advice on such as deregulation, meaning of Universal Service, with request from the Palauan public, based on my thesis research. As the result Palau government approved the new telecommunication bill which introduced deregulation and competition in their telecommunication service regime, on the 21st September 2015.
When I started my PhD in 2008, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation had a new Chairman and the Pacific Island Nations Fund changed its focus from ICT to maritime security projects. However, telecommunication is always a key component of security, so I could still keep touch with ICT issues in the Pacific within the capacity of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation as well. It is a great opportunity for this study to keep up the current discussions and movement in the development of telecommunication in the Pacific Islands.