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Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on funding telecommunications subsea cable systems is a “very practical” way of providing foreign aid, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said.
“We spend billions of dollars a year on foreign aid, and this is a very practical way of investing in the future economic growth of our neighbours in the Pacific,” the prime minister said on Wednesday.
Turbull is slated to sign the deal to deliver almost AU$137 million (US$100.9 million) in foreign aid funding on a Papua New Guinea-Australia-Solomon Islands subsea cable on Wednesday afternoon during a trilateral meeting with the prime ministers of the two island nations.
Telecommunications provider Vocus was last month awarded the contract to construct the submarine cable system.
“Awarding the AU$136.6 million (US$100.6 million) contract to delivery partner Vocus is a major milestone and signals the start of the physical installation of the Coral Sea Cable System,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said at the time.
“Australia will deliver and majority-fund the cables, with financial co-contribution from both PNG and Solomon Islands.”
Vocus said the Coral Sea Cable System, which is expected to be complete by the end of next year, will use multi-terabit technology. It will now commence a “comprehensive program of survey, manufacture, and deployment activities,” the company added.
The telco is also set to build out a domestic submarine cable network in the Solomon Islands to link Auki in Malaita Province, Noro in Western Province, and Taro in Choiseul Province with the Honiara landing point, which will be jointly funded by Australia and the Solomon Islands.
Turnbull had in April confirmed the subsea cable would be built, saying that the federal government would provide the “majority” of the funding for the project, which will also land in Port Moresby.
The project will enable Solomon Islands to improve security and boost economic growth, the prime minister added, but said the increased connectivity for Pacific Island nations would expose them to more cybersecurity risks.
Vocus had entered an agreement with Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in January to scope out the design, construction, and procurement of the Australia-Papua New Guinea-Solomon Islands subsea cable.
The agreement with the government was worth AU$2.8 million (US$2.06) to Vocus and involved consulting with the governments of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, gathering detailed requirements, conducting a desktop survey, tendering the cable system project, and commencing permits.
The federal government had used the reasoning of foreign aid to lock rival vendor Huawei out of supplying the subsea cable.
“What we are doing is providing very practical and substantial support and aid, as part of our foreign aid programme, to provide that telecommunications infrastructure which will ensure that Solomon Islands has access to 21st century telecommunications, which is vital ... for education, for commerce, for economic development, in every aspect of their society just as it is in ours,” Turnbull said in June.
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