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UK Gov Commits £4.94m to Help Deploy Fibre Broadband on Montserrat

Thursday, January 5th, 2017 (8:32 am) - Score 1,200
Montserrat volcano island

The British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, which is a small Caribbean island that was largely devastated after the Soufrière Hills volcano began erupting from mid-1995, has won £4.94m from UK Department for International Development in order to roll-out “superfast broadband” on the island.

Apparently some in the media think that this is a waste of money (Note to Daily Mail, it’s Montserrat not Monserrat), even though £4.94 million is a drop in the ocean for such things, but we’ll leave the judgement on that side of proceedings up to others and attempt to focus on the far more interesting practical side of the project.

At its peak the island was home to upwards of 12,000 people, but the horrific impact of the late 1990’s eruption has reduced that to around 5,200 (2013 figure) and more than half of the island has been left almost completely covered by lava and ash. The latter includes the once main town of Plymouth that is now buried and the last eruption occurred in 2010.

Since then the Government of Montserrat has been working hard to rebuild the island’s infrastructure around the new town of Little Bay and as part of that they’ve been seeking support for a submarine fibre optic cable project, which would connect to one or more neighbouring islands (St Kitts and Antigua). It’s easy to forget that the island originally did have a fibre optic link, but this was largely destroyed by the volcano.

We’ve done a bit of research and understand that Montserrat has had to make do with a 320Mbps capable Microwave (radio) link to neighbouring Antigua, which is struggling to keep up with demand and as such the new plan essentially envisages a project that would re-connect the island to its old fibre optic cable (i.e. the subsea part that wasn’t burnt to a crisp or buried beneath masses of hot lava / rock).

This appears to reflect a branch of the Eastern Caribbean Fibre System (ECFS), which runs a cable between all of the main islands in that region and once connected Montserrat. However another cable from the Global Caribbean Network (GCN) and one from the Southern Caribbean Fibre project also run nearby.

A DFID Spokesman said:

“Following the devastating eruption in the UK overseas territory, we’ve met our legal obligations to Montserrat by investing in the vital infrastructure needed for the island to stand on its own two feet again.”

Both mobile and fixed line penetration on the island already stand at about 100% and Montserrat has also liberalised its telecoms market, which means there’s a lot of competition for such a small place and around 15-20 ISPs serve the area. Quite how this will be impacted by the new connectivity is as yet unclear.

Under the plan, which is also being supported by an investment of £50,955 from local ISPs and a grant of £150,000 from the European Development Fund, every property on Montserrat should be reachable with “superfast broadband” by the end of 2018 and community wifi hotspots may also be established.

Whether or not you think this is worth the money is another matter, although Britain does have a clear responsibility to maintain its overseas territories and this is one investment that may help the local economy to grow and thus in the future to reduce the need for financial support from the UK.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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7 Responses
  1. Optimist

    I think the public quite happy to help after natural disasters, and the money involved is very small, so this help for Montserrat passes the test IMHO.

    What the public object to is huge sums going to prop up corrupt regimes, and even going to fund terrorists, when there is so much need in the UK.

    I would like to see DFID’s 0.7% of GDP target abolished, if MPs think there is a good reason to help other countries, they should decide each case individually and transparently.

    It also seems crazy that the cost of resettling refugees in this country is not met from the Foreign Aid budget rather than being an extra burden on council tax payers.

  2. MikeW

    Similar amount of money, and similar number of people, to St Helena. Except they are currently sharing a 20Mbps satellite link.

    http://www.connectsthelena.org

    IMO a good use of money.

    • Optimist

      We have just funded an expensive new airport for St Helena, unfortunately unusable when the wind blows, which is most of the time. I think it will have to wait a long time for a new expensive cable link. BTW didn’t it used to have telegraph links with South Africa and the UK?

      For remote places such as this surely the only viable solution is to upgrade the capacity of satellite systems, despite problems such as latency.

    • MikeW

      It’s a bit like B4RN … if there’s a perfectly decent backhaul fibre running in the vicinity, why not connect into it?

      At least the airport problem is gradually being dealt with…

    • Optimist

      Is the undersea cable via St Helena going ahead still?

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