Manus, being mostly a maritime province with its vast open seas, its unofficial 100,000 population scattered in small communities across its islands, coastlines and rugged hinterlands faces development challenges from a lack of reliable, affordable transportation, energy and communication infrastructure. Communication solutions, let alone a robust and affordable internet-based system is still only a dream for many of the communities. Communication services in most parts of Manus is still provided by Digicel towers placed in some areas around the island province. But even still, many remote villages are not able to connect to the internet or have reliable phone services to communicate with the outside world.
One such rural and remote village on the south coast of Manus Province has been out of phone network coverage for a long time. M’buke, pronounced as ‘Bu-ke’ with a silent ‘M’, are a group of islands who are a part of one of Manus’s major language groups – Titan language and are renown for building large outrigger canoes and are skillful sailors. With a relatively small population numbering close to 1,000, the people are outgoing, community oriented and practice communal decision making and have developed shared systems to tackle transport and energy challenges. However, the lack of reliable and affordable communication services has been an on ongoing challenge for a long time.
Peter Popu Molean, an architect by profession and project manager by qualification and training, is a M’buke local who has invested more than a decade into investigating and support the delivery of development projects and innovative solutions for his island home. A robust and affordable communication has always been on the list of priorities. In 2020, his hunt for an affordable internet solution landed him at Kacific Broadband Satellite Ltd, a relatively new entrant into Papua New Guinea (operating mostly in south east Asia and the south western Pacific) committed to providing universal, fast, high-quality broadband access at an affordable cost using robust technologies and an agile business model. Immediately recognizing the capabilities of the solution on offer by Kacific, he developed and submitted a proposal with the blessing of the traditional leadership of M’buke, the Ward development community and the Board of management of the M’buke Primary School and the M’buke Community for a Satellite broadband Internet Kit under Kacific’ s Community Wifi Program. M’buke’s application was one the first to be approved. Under the conditions for this program, the Satellite kit would be heavily discounted and linked up with Kinect, a Port Moresby Based Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Kacific authorized dealer and installer. The recipient community takes up costs for equipment freight and logistics as well as installation service fees. The Community would also need to procure and install a solar power kit capable for running the system.
In early 2021, Molean proposed the project to 12 young likeminded M’buke Islanders based in Port Moresby together hatched a plan to pull this project off starting with a personal cash commitment to raise the cost component and take charge of ensuring the Project got delivered. Armed with a simple but effective project delivery strategy, the team was able to garner the support from various individuals and groups from other centers around the country, in Lorengau and especially on the island who chipped in cash and kind. These included Air Niugini, NCD Governor Hon. Powes Parkop, Sherpard Guest House, Bismarck Fuel, Kinect and the M’buke Islands People’s Association (MIPA). For example, Air Niugini’s Commercial team, made it possible to uplift all the equipment from Port Moresby to Manus free of excess charges, provided heavily discounted tickets for the technical team to travel not only once but twice to M’buke Island from Port Moresby to inspect, install and commission the Satellite Broadband Internet and Wifi System.
Last week, months of planning and execution, many acts of goodwill, generous hearts and contributions, all the hard work paid off when M’buke Island was connected to the world wide web via high speed broad band internet service.
The team leader Mr. Peter Popu Molean said in practical terms, the pace of socio-economic development has been hindered for so many years with very poor unreliable service from existing service providers. M’buke is a 3-hour or K500 boat trip to Lorengau town to make that vital phone call or send a critical email or access online services. A contributing factor to the high cost of service delivery is the lack of access to a robust system that can support dissemination of data and information in a timely and accurate manner.
In the mid-term, he said: “The Internet Service will boost teaching and learning capacities, at the elementary and primary school levels, where programs are already being set in place to maximize the benefits of resources and capabilities availed via the internet
“The future of the M’buke people as society is and will always be best guaranteed with a well-educated population. Enabling access to education resources online at the basic community level is a natural step in building community resilience by enabling our people to develop home grown solutions to meet ever shifting development challenges,” he added.
He pointed out: “We will launch the Internet and telecommunications service on 16th September to coincide with our local independence celebrations. The installation and commissioning of the Internet Service on the island is not end of the Project, rather it is only the beginning. As with change and development progress, there will be negative aspects that will be need attention and mitigation strategies put in place and with power vested with the appropriate stakeholders. However, on the overall, positive benefits should outweigh the negatives.”
There are already plans underway by the MIPA to conduct more community consultations and training to members of the community on basic internet use on smart phones, online safety and online literacy. The MIPA executives are already planning a rapid evaluation in December on the island to assess the impact and outcome of the telecommunication service.