SPEECH: HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT THE LAUNCH OF THE TFL WIFI SERVICE

Honourable Ministers;
Members of the Diplomatic Corp;
TFL Board, CEO, Management and Staff;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

It gives me pleasure to be here tonight to launch TFL’s wireless broadband service. This is a great step forward for Fiji’s information and communications technology industry — an industry that my Government is committed to developing. Not only is this expansion in line with my Government’s priorities, I am proud to say that this work has been undertaken by Fiji’s 100% locally owned telecommunications company – Telecom Fiji Limited. Thanks to TFL, the people of Fiji will now be more connected to each other and to the world than ever before.

Fiji is experiencing more of the advantages of technological advancement every day. And my Government has – and will continue – to help innovators in the ICT industry spread these benefits throughout the country.

We’ve already deregulated the telecommunications market and increased competition by levelling the playing field for operators. We also reduced import duty on laptops, computers, smart phones and modems, bringing the price on all of these items down. Of course in the 2016 Budget, the duty for wireless modems has been further reduced from 5 percent to zero percent. And now with the across-the-board reduction of VAT from 15 percent to 9 percent, these items and everything else will become even more affordable for ordinary Fijians and thereby creating greater accessibility. When we make technology more accessible, we widen the benefits and opportunities generated by the information revolution.

However, these achievements will not mean anything if we don’t make sure they are for everyone. If we allow a digital divide to persist, we will simply widen the gap between rich and poor, and rural and urban communities.

To stop this from happening, Fiji’s first National Broadband Policy was developed by my Government in 2012. This five year development plan for the broadband and ICT sector provided a framework to position Fiji as a telecommunications hub. It lays out how Government will optimise economic growth, health, education and commercial benefits through increased connectivity and accessibility, and faster and more reliable internet and telecommunications services. This growth and these benefits need to include all Fijians and lift up all Fijians. It must help raise living standard, encourage learning, and develop among Fijians a more sophisticated understanding of the world. It must drive hope and ambition and encourage initiative and innovation. And it must show Fijians what is possible for them. And that can only happen when every Fijian is able to participate in Fiji’s technological modernisation.

My Government is also assisting with the opening of telecentres to provide free access to basic ICT services for students and their neighbouring communities. We need our children to be active participants in our information revolution, not only to bridge the digital divide, but to make sure our next generation is competitive in the international workforce. We also must not leave our elderly behind.

I am proud to say that these policies are working. The world is recognising the potential of Fiji’s ICT sector. I recently collected an award from the ITU in recognition of our achievements in the area of ICT. But there is still more work to be done.

The international digital landscape is constantly evolving, and Fiji needs to keep pace. If our pricing models and internet connection speeds remain uncompetitive, Fiji will fall behind – and Fijians will miss out on future opportunities. We risk losing out on new international investment if we can’t offer affordable services, have better bandwidth and make a determined and practical approach to create ourselves as a technological hub.

While Government will do its part, FINTEL and TFL must get serious. The pricing and inflexible attitude to get more customers for themselves and investors into Fiji needs to be addressed immediately. We are fortunate that the Southern-Cross cable lands in Fiji but that does not mean we take a monopolistic stance. As was announced by the Attorney-General and Minister for Finance in the 2016 budget address, our approach to doing business must change. We cannot afford to have the attitude that we make a kill on one sale. We must move to a lower margin and high volume approach. This will enable us to take advantage of the economic trajectory we are on and create businesses and employment opportunities in the ITC sector both directly and indirectly.

I also understand that the current plans to complete the laying of fibre optic cable around Viti Levu have slowed down because of the inability of FEA and TFL to expeditiously work together. We cannot afford to have our critical infrastructure companies working in silos. This matter must be resolved within a week.

Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, Fiji is already well placed and situated for large-scale data centres and telecentres – we have a young well educated work force, constantly improving educational facilities, the right time zone and neutral accents that are attractive to multiple markets. So the only factor left is pricing and bandwidth access. This will create more jobs and create more opportunities.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe in a Fiji that fully embraces the digital world. A Fiji where telecommunications access and technological advancements are not only for the privileged few. A Fiji where these products and services are affordable and available for everyone.

My Government will also continue to encourage partnerships between domestic companies and offshore roaming partners to allow for better and affordable connectivity. Roaming charges by our mobile phones are still too high. It is no longer a luxury but a necessary tool for communications.

As we prepare for more substantial investments in the ICT sector, it is essential we make sure these investments are well-managed and tailored to meet community demands. The investment made by TFL is timely and necessary. And I am confident that this expansion will make Wi-Fi services more accessible and more affordable for Fijians.

So again, I congratulate and thank TFL, and we look forward to TFL playing an even greater role in the development of our ICT sector. Our future as a trading nation, as a nation that is looking to grow its services sector, as a leader in the tourism sector, and as a nation of people living fulfilling lives, will depend on it to a great extent.

I thank you and wish you all a pleasant evening.

Vinaka Vakalevu.