About 500,000 people living in remote rural areas of PNG now have access to basic telephony services, thanks to the successful implementation of the Voice Telephony Project by the National Information and Communications Technology Authority (NICTA).
The people in the rural communities that have been connected through the project can now make and receive voice calls or send and receive text messages to and from anywhere in the world. Other benefits of the service include the ability to seek and exchange information and to complete a financial transaction through a phone banking service.
The project is one of three components under the RCP for which a one-time capital subsidy of US$7.3 million (or over K 22million) was provided under the Financing Agreement between the State and the World Bank.
The project is in line with the government’s rural communications objectives as outlined in the National Information and Communications Technology Act 2009 (National ICT Act 2009) and related policies to provide universal access to information and communications technology (ICT) services to the rural people of PNG. NICTA, through its Universal Access Service Secretariat established through the National ICT Act 2009, implemented the project.
A total of 59 cell towers have been installed in selected sites in remote locations in PNG. The contract to install the cell towers and equipment was awarded to the mobile service operator, Digicel PNG Ltd, through an open and competitive public tender process on May 16, 2014. The 59 cell towers are scattered throughout the four regions of PNG and provide 2G mobile services to over 500,000 people. The rollout of the towers began in June 2014 and ended in June 2015.
The project has not been without challenges though. A number of the sites had to be relocated or rebuilt due to vandalism and damages caused to the cell towers, radio equipment, and theft of solar panels. Of the 59 towers, five have been damaged leaving 54 fully operational. Disputes over land ownership of cell tower sites and compensation claims by locals are amongst a host of issues faced by the contractor during the implementation stage of the project.