Vodafone, Digicel, and the newcomer Wantok Network put pens before the Telecommunications Radio-communications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR)to provide a continuity of services to the country and its people.
The second signing of the undertaking agreement between TRBR and telecommunication operators happened on Tuesday at the TRBR conference room. TRBR regulator Brian Winji says;
“TRBR is the implementing agency of the Government that implements the Government policy in regards to universal access. Vodafone, Digicel, and Wantok sealed their agreement with TRBR through the signing of this contract providing that the three operators provide extended coverage. This means providing service to 20 rural areas in Vanuatu with large populations”
According to Mr. Winji, Wantok is a newcomer to this agreement. There is a policy that requires 98% broadband (internet) and narrowband (texting and voice services)coverage in order to be eligible to participate in the agreement. Wantok as a mobile operator meets these criteria in providing both, therefore it has been invited by TRBR to join this program.
The program is intended to close the gap in communications. “So far we have 90% covered but the remaining 20% gap is what we are trying to close,” says Mr. Winji.
All three operators agree that Vanuatu is one of the most challenging places to connect due to geographical and natural Disaster elements.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Vodafone Vanuatu Barlen Lutchmoodoo says;
“On Epi Island, the rural infrastructure, its hills make it difficult for us to operate. But people need communications to breach the digital divide. Despite the challenges, Vodafone has done its best as an operator and will continue to try its best in closing the 20% gap in coverage”
The Head of Business Solution at Digicel Vanuatu, Rupert Benson states;
“Digicel came to Vanuatu 13 years ago. This is the most challenging country. Digicel has been through cyclone PAM, Cyclone Harold, it has been through Ambae and Tanna, It never stops moving. There are many challenges but the people of Vanuatu always find a way forward. Digicel plans to do the same”
The CEO of Wantok Vanuatu, Justin Kaitapu says:
“Wantok is quite happy to participate in this program. We hope to complement existing infrastructure in the country as well as existing operators and what they have achieved so far on the collaboration effort going forward”
Mr. Winji says the operators will relieve direct assistance from the Vanuatu Government in terms of implementing the paid approach in Vanuatu.
The operators who have signed recommitted to play (keep developing their networks in rural areas) instead of paying the Universal access (UAP) levy to the Trust account of the Government.Other operators who are not included in the agreement or committed to play pay UAP 4% of their net Revenue to the governments’ trust account.
“Other benefits of the agreement to the operators include exemption of import duty, exemption of VAT on some particular items, exempting on spectrum licenses. Also, this year TRBR will provide a small subsidy to help meet challenges in cash flow and loss in low revenue,” says Mr. Winji.
The rollout of the Universal Access Policy (UAP) in Vanuatu is to leave no one behind and offer affordable services to the people from North to South of Vanuatu.