Regulator Says Free Wifi Project Cannot Continue Without “Spectrum License”

0
289
Installation work at Sasina Primary School, Savaii.

The Office of the Regulator has confirmed that it cannot grant Netvo Samoa the appropriate “Spectrum” license to continue its community project previously announced to provide free wifi internet service to more than 50 schools in remote areas of Savaii. 

The project was announced in September by founder of the E3 Samoa Trust, Togisala Tony Leota who said at the time that the ‘Free School Wi-Fi Project’ is being implemented by the Trust with installation and sattelite based technology provided through a partnership between Netvo Samoa and Kacific Broadband Satellite Company. He added that a partnership with the FAST political party assisted the project by way of accessing school committees and identifying schools with no internet access.

At the time, Togisala told Samoa Global News that the licensing required for the project, as far as he understood, is well covered under Netvo’s existing operating license which allowed for the installation of satellites anywhere in Samoa.

A letter from Acting Regulator, Cecily Faasau-Iakopo however confirms that Netvo holds a Telecommunications License which is not the same as a Spectrum License needed for the project.

Installation of Auala Primary School, Savaii

“By law an application for grant of Spectrum License for the new and anticipated spectrum to be used for the new sites, should have been made.”

“To remove any confusion a Spectrum License is not the same as a Telecommunication License, whilst Bluwave had authorization to provide Telecommunication services under its Telecommunication License, it did not have authorization for use of spectrum in order for the Project to operate.”

The Acting Regulator says the situation is unfortunate but they are unable to ignore rules or undermine the legal requirements that dictate its mandates and proper process.

“An analogy that comes into mind would be if someone stole food to feed his/her hungry child; the fact that his child was hungry does not justify his/her action right; and similarly the fact that the Project intends to service schools that may be in need of internet does not justify the act or omission of satisfying regulatory requirements.”

The Office of the Regulator concludes with options to allow internet access to schools yet to access wifi connectivity, suggesting that either Netvo meets the requirements for a Spectrum license, or relevant government ministries, work together to see that the information and communication technology needs of the schools are met.

The  OOTR Letter is published below in verbatim.

16 November 2020

Chief Executive Officer

Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

FMFMII Building

MATAGIALALUA

CLARIFICATION FOR SAMOA OBSERVER NEWS ARTICLE “REGULATOR STOPS PROJECT, REFUSES LICENCE”

I write in relation to the above matter and refer to a letter from the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on 10th November 2020.

As a clarification of what was printed on the Samoa Observer in relation to the decision issued to Bluwave Wireless Ltd also known as Netvo Samoa Limited regarding their Project.

Please be informed that after deliberation over what was relevant information, I was inclined to find that the Bluwave Wireless (“Bluwave”) Project roll out was unauthorized.

This is premised on the fact that the Office of the Regulator (“OOTR”) and those who were in the position of Acting Regulator were neither aware nor informed of the project; and neither was there any official record that established official approval or authorization. The Project was only discovered by OOTR staff during one of its Coverage and Service exercises in Savaii on or about 10 September 2020 and from there, inquiries were conducted. By law an application for grant of Spectrum License for the new and anticipated spectrum to be used for the new sites, should have been made.

To remove any confusion a Spectrum License is not the same as a Telecommunication License, whilst Bluwave had authorization to provide Telecommunication services under its Telecommunication License, it did not have authorization for use of spectrum in order for the Project to operate.

As a way forward, Bluwave was directed through several correspondences and finally ordered by way or Order of the Regulator No.2020/T04 (available on our website) to:

  • Cease roll out and continuation of Project until regulatory measures are met and approved by the Regulator;
  • Produce all relevant information, documentation relative to the Project and Bluwave operations, inclusive of Business, Technical and Procurement Plan for the Office of the Regulator’s perusal.

Upon receipt of documents provided by Bluwave in support and Projection of the reports and documents submitted against the approved Evaluation Criteria for License; Bluwave fell short of the pass mark for approval of a spectrum license to facilitate operation of the Project.

The situation is unfortunate but the rules are clear; to ignore them would essentially mean that OOTR will undermine the very legal instruments that dictate its mandates and proper process. An analogy that comes into mind would be if someone stole food to feed his/her hungry child; the fact that his child was hungry does not justify his/her action right; and similarly the fact that the Project intends to service schools that may be in need of internet does not justify the act or omission of satisfying regulatory requirements.

In light of the decision the only other real concern is what is going to happen to the schools that may be affected by the decision; as such I think that the only other plausible action is:

  • For Bluwave to follow proper regulatory measures, meet all relevant criteria for approval; and /or
  • The Ministry of Education Sports and Culture and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology must work together to see that the information and communication technology needs of the schools are met.

Meanwhile there is also the opportunity of a universal access mechanism which can be driven by the Office of the Regulator to assist with unserved or underserved areas, inclusive of the affected schools.

Respectfully

Cecily Faasau-Iakopo

ACTING REGULATOR