Understanding the Regulatory Environment for ICT Infrastructure in Papua New Guinea: The Coral Sea Cable System (CS2) Case Study
Abril 23, 2024
Muhammad Nidhal

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Understanding the Regulatory Environment for ICT Infrastructure in Papua New Guinea: The Coral Sea Cable System (CS2) Case Study Image
Abstract

Over the past decade, digital connectivity has emerged as a critical new form of infrastructure, akin to roads, energy or ports—underpinning economic growth and social development. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the advent of digital connectivity has opened up new avenues for communication, commerce, education, and governance. Indeed, the introduction of the internet in PNG nearly three decades ago (1997), has accelerated the country’s digitization efforts.
However, despite the PNG government’s digital infrastructure strategies, broadband access—both fixed and mobile—remains limited in Papua New Guinea. ITU (the International Telecommunications Union) recorded that only 32% of PNG’s total population used the internet in 2021, in contrast with an Asia Pacific average of 60%.
This also stands in contrast with PNG’s rising strategic profile. As a result of its geographical location, abundant natural resources, and a reliance on international investments, PNG has become valuable to many countries with interests in the region. In turn this has resulted in growing geopolitical tensions between global powers, particularly between Australia and China. This is evident in the laying of the latest international subsea cable—the Coral Sea Cable System (CS2).
The CS2 is a significant telecommunications infrastructure initiative connecting Australia, PNG, and the Solomon Islands. The project involves a 4,700 km fiber-optic subsea cable that links both PNG and Solomon Islands to Australia. Its purpose is to deliver faster, more affordable, and reliable internet connection to both PNG and the Solomon Islands. In turn, it is expected that the CS2 will support PNG and the Solomon Islands’ further integration into the global marketplace through the development of entrepreneurship improved digital skills and enhanced information sharing between the three countries.
Australia, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), has been a major contributor to the project, contributing two-thirds of the financing, with PNG and the Solomon Islands equally sharing the remaining one-third. As the major contributor, Australia selected Australian-based Vocus and French-based ASN (Alcatel Submarine Networks) to construct and install the fiber cables.
However, in spite of the relative success of the project, there have been reports of significant challenges, including concerns about the financial terms of the agreement, security and transparency issues, and the geopolitical implications of major powers’ interest in the Pacific region.
This paper explores these issues in more detail, before providing final recommendations and lessons learned in the context of the Coral Sea Cable System project, with a specific focus on PNG. Key recommendations include:
• The PNG government should legislate for a Right to Information Law to promote transparency and accountability in public project management.
• The government and the public should take into consideration prospective partners’ standards for governance and transparency when deciding who to collaborate with in these types of infrastructure projects.
• Donors or financiers of infrastructure development projects should insist that the government and other recipients publish relevant information to the public as part of the funding arrangements.
• The pooling of human and financial resources at a regional and sub-regional level will result in enhanced broadband connectivity.
• A sub-regional intergovernmental platform for effective coordination and cooperation in the development and delivery of ICT projects in the Pacific should be developed.
Going forward, ongoing monitoring and evaluation will be critical to ensuring the project's continued success and addressing any issues that may arise during its operation.

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