For those of us who weren't blessed with exceptional geographical knowledge, St Helena is a tiny British island in the South Atlantic, home to 4,000 people. The islanders rely heavily on budgetary aids from the UK, which often means they have very little. This includes telecommunications to the outside world. The island's entire population share a satellite link internet connection of just 10 Mbit/s, that's equivalent to two times the average speed of two UK broadband connections, shared across 1,000 subscribers. As a result the islanders enjoy very few of the luxuries that come with today's connected society.
In 2012 eFive Telecoms will be running one of the world's fastest fibre optic cables past St Helena to connect South Africa with Brazil, called the South Atlantic Express (SAex). This will provide 12.8 Tbit/s of bandwidth, going a few hundred kilometres North of St Helena. At the moment the route that the cable will be run down is too far away from St Helena to run an additional branch line to connect the island. What Christian von der Ropp from Connect St Helena is proposing would mean moving the cable slightly South of the current planned route to run much closer to St Helena. The group are seeking just 155 Mbit/s of that 12.8 Tbit/s, which would be fifteen and a half times more what they have at the moment.
There are a number of factors which need to happen in order for this to work. Firstly (and possibly most importantly) the group believes that eFive Telecoms needs to be persuaded to route the SAex cable down a more Southward route closer to St Helena. In addition to this, they believe the UK government needs to fund the 50km extra cabling needed to bring the SAex to St Helena. Finally an African or Brazilian carrier would need to lease an OC-3 circuit to St Helena, as the islanders would be unable to purchase a full wavelength, which would be excessive in any case.
The new route that Mr von der Ropp has looked at would be beneficial for the current investors as well:
"Routing the South Atlantic Express cable via St Helena would probably increase cable length by just some 50km and would even provide technical benefits for the cable operator as St Helena could feed-in electric power to the cable's repeaters required every 100km. Furthermore a landing point at St Helena would allow laying a future branch to São Paulo, Brazil's economic centre, so the cable operator could offer the shortest route from the São Paulo region to Angola and South Africa while also having a redundant route from São Paulo via St Helena to Fortaleza."Connect St Helena - www.connectsthelena.org
It seems unbelievable in a modern society that the people of St Helena miss out on so much that we 'mainlanders' take for granted. So the islander's plea is simple: "Please show social responsibility and share this precious resource with the St Helenians, free them from broadband isolation and give them a chance to develop their economy and eventually become self-sustaining! Give sick people a chance to consult specialists by the means of telemedicine and give pupils a chance of getting a better education by e-learning! St Helena is very likely able to largely fund the cable landing as well as leasing capacity at market prices, so we don't ask for donations but for your support to change the cable's route."
Mr von der Ropp believes that there is very limited time to persuade the cable operator to consider the alternative route to bring St Helena online, possibly only a matter of weeks.