27 October 2021, Apia Samoa. A Community Project supported by the FAST political party aimed at providing free wifi to remotely located schools in Savaii is suffering blocks due to “dirty politics” according to FAST leader Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Schmidt.
Speaking to the media at a press conference yesterday afternoon, Laauli said FAST was seeking a legal opinion with regards to the blocks experienced by the project and they were prepared to battle it out in Court if it came to that.
“Dirty politics is the issue here”, Laauli told the media during a live press conference.
“Our major concern is if dirty politics impacts a useful project such as this one, then that is just not right,” La’auli said.
During the project announcement in September, Netvo Samoa CEO Togisala Tony Leota had said the Free School Wi-Fi Project was a social impact and rural community initiative of Netvo Samoa.
Togisala had explained at the time that the project which would benefit over 50 village primary schools across Savaii was being implemented through his family’s not-for-profit organisation, E3 Samoa Trust, with satellite-based technology provided through a partnership between Netvo Samoa and the Vanuatu-based Kacific Broadband Satellite Company.
Togisala clarified that the role of FAST in the project was to assist with village relations, and the cultural connections needed to access Village School Committees, for the project roll-out. He added that they had made several unsuccessful attempts to get access through relevant Government ministries.
“FAST got the agreement and clearance of School Principals and Village School Committees in Savaii, and so installation started in June this year”, said Togisala at the time.
“The relationship started back in November 2019 during the measles outbreak when Laauli contacted us for help to install wifi in their local primary schools during the State of Emergency lockdowns”
Togisala had also 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.
Today the project is on hold and Netvo’s license scrutinised according to the FAST leader.
“The students and teachers of the schools already installed with satellites, are the ones missing out”, said Laauli.
Laauli says FAST is letting NETVO handle the negotiations currently underway with the Office of the Regulator, however, it was his view that things did not seem to be progressing quickly enough.
“After this week and the Government (Regulator) does not agree with the project to proceed then we will take another step forward,” said Laauli confirming their intent to go to Court.
“Lea ua i lima o loia, e silasila i auala fa’aletulafono pe fa’afefea ona fa’asa’o polokiki nei, polokiki palapalā. It’s all about politics now. Ua le fa’aali sa’o le mea na matou o atu ai ma le agaga mama e fa’atino mea lelei nei mo le atunu’u.”
According to Laauli, new licencing requirements are being imposed to create unnecessary blocks for the project roll out.
“Ua aga’i le malo e fai aiaiga fou, ma ua aga’i mai le uluulu o le la’au i le laisene a le kamupani a le NETVO.”
According to the Minister of Telecommunications, Information and Technology (MCIT) Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i, he was never informed of the project, and neither was the government Regulator.
“The government doesn’t mind these useful projects, but as long as they are doing it according to the law (rules and regulations),” he said.
The Minister said this included all licensing requirements and any fees imposed by the law, just like any other Wifi project.
The Minister of MCIT had said at the time, “If I do not know about this project then that means the Regulator doesn’t know about it, so it’s illegal what they are doing,” Afamasaga said.
Ten schools in Savaii had been connected to the internet before the project was put on hold.
Talamua Online News had sought reactions from teaxhers and school principals who had benefited from the free wifi while it lasted.
Sister Koreti of Sacred Hearts Primary School in Safotu had said their students no longer had to purchase data in order to access online educational lessons.
Sr Koreti also confirmed that the project was strict in providing firewalls and security to filter out sites that students should not be accessing.
Principal of Tutaga Primary, Tofono Toma said connectivity is crucial for their work in regular communication with the central office apart from the teachers and students accessing the online lessons. “We are in the age of technology and it’s important that students in Savai’i must not miss out,” she said.