2019 was the tenth anniversary of the legislation which created the Telecommunications Commission and gave it national responsibility for administering the telecommunications services sector, independently of the Government.
The most significant event in 2019 was the completion of the long-anticipated Coral Sea submarine cable (CS2) to Sydney. Completed at the same time, the Solomon Islands Domestic Network (SIDN) submarine cable links the international cable to each of Auki in Malaita Province, Noro in Western Province and Taro in Choiseul Province. This will ensure that key Provincial Centres can benefit fully from the new International cable system and support the advancement of domestic telecommunications in the Solomon Islands.
The Commission is taking a lead role in the establishment of a Solomon Islands internet exchange peering point (SIIXP) that complements the submarine cable and allows local content caching that will improve the quality of service for Solomon Islanders.
The Commission welcomes the positive response by all service providers to the SIIXP.
Now that international bandwidth is no longer a constraint, the focus must shift to the last mile to take advantage of the possibilities unleashed by the new submarine cables. The sharing of towers and other terrestrial infrastructure can be supported in a small market like the Solomon Islands if it improves service coverage in rural areas. But the Commission is not prepared to support supply-side universal service funding.
The report card on the improvement across all market performance indicators over the last decade is a vindication of Parliament’s termination of public service oversight of the sector, and ministerial involvement in the commercial aspects of telecommunications.
2019 saw further improvements in the quality and coverage of mobile services. But the Commission would like to see more price competition to make services more affordable. This report shows there has been a lack of price competition in recent years and the retail cost of data is high compared with our Pacific neighbours.
The Commission believes that a change from the traditional bandwidth pricing of submarine cables to traffic pricing (i.e. from Gbps to GB) could kick-start competition from new entrants. This is something SISCC is actively considering.
There is also scope for either or both the mobile operators to voluntarily offer resale (or mobile virtual network operators) over their respective networks. Major carriers in other countries have found using resellers stimulates the market profitably.
2020 will be challenging. The Solomon Islands declared a state of public emergency on 25th March 2020 and the emergency period has been extended by Order from the Prime Minister to July 2020. International supply chains have been disrupted and demand fuelled by tourism has disappeared.