Hawaiki Cable – the project’s developers – and the NZ Government-owned Research and Educational Advanced Network New Zealand (REANNZ) put their signatures on a $65 million contract to purchase bandwidth capacity on the cable last week.
The proposed 14,000km international telecommunications cable will connect New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and the United Sates, and could be in operation by 2016 according to some estimates.
Officials say the more financial commitment the project receives, the closer it moves to becoming a reality.
Finance Minister Mark Brown said he was watching the development with interest.
Brown held talks with Hawaiki’s Chief Executive Officer last year, where he indicated interest in the project by potentially getting the Cook Islands connected to the cable through a “linking spur” on the main trunk line.
Following last year’s meeting, he said Hawaiki came back with a price to get in on the project - $30 million - as a “ball park figure”.
In contrast to the substantive initial cash outlay, Brown said follow-up costs could be as low as a tenth of what is currently being paid for satellite bandwidth – described as the amount of data that travels through the wires at a given speed.
“What is of interest to us are the ongoing bandwidth costs, and what that will be on an annual basis,” he said. “It’s a matter of balancing it out and determining what is cost-effective for the country.”
Brown said current internet bandwidth could be easily exceeded in a decade, depending on services offered and what type of internet-based services Cook Islanders are interested in.
He said a potential area of development that would eventually necessitate substantial improvements in bandwidth is internet-based television services.
In addition to private needs, Brown said an undersea cable and associated improvements in speed and bandwidth will also provide commercial opportunities in the Cook Islands.
“There are going to be huge benefits in having this asset,” he said. “It will drive economic growth in areas we haven’t even thought about yet.”
“In Rarotonga, it’s inevitable that we have one if we don’t want to be left behind in the growing global economy.”
Officials claim the Hawaiki cable will deliver speeds of up to 25 terabits per second.
This year, the Cook Islands began receiving high-speed internet through global satellite service O3b.
Telecom Cook Islands is currently in a contract with the service provider for a five-year term, which can then be renegotiated.
Brown said an undersea cable would compliment O3b, as the service reaches the outer islands and can be used there as bandwidth needs increase.