Government commissions subsea cable feasibility study

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

The Ministry of Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure is seeking proposals from consulting firms for a commercial and technical feasibility study that will investigate the potential to update Cayman’s international telecommunications infrastructure.

The request for proposal published on government’s tender website is closing on 10 Jan.

The ministry said the study will underpin government’s proposed investment into renewing and modernising this infrastructure with a new submarine cable and related services.

In its latest two-year budget, government has allocated $15 million for a submarine cable in 2022 and another $15 million in 2023.

While this is more money than government has budgeted for road expansion projects, the total cost of a submarine cable could be up to five times larger than the earmarked $30 million.

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Premier Wayne Panton said in his budget address that the funding for the implementation of a new underwater communications cable is to ensure Cayman remains connected to the world.

The feasibility study will help the ministry formulate a Submarine Cable Modernisation Plan, mentioned in the budget documents as one of its key projects for the next two years.

It is expected that government would seek to partner with private sector firms to stem the project, if a valid business case can be made.

A new submarine cable has been in discussion in both the private and public sector for some time.

Last year, the previous Progressives-led government issued a request for information tender “to kick off industry consultation on a new submarine cable infrastructure”.

Both governments have noted that fast, resilient and affordable internet connections are essential for Cayman’s economy and the consumer.

Cayman is currently connected to two subsea communication cables.

Cable & Wireless is the owner of the Cayman Jamaica Fiber System (CJFS) and the local member of the consortium that owns and operates the Maya 1 subsea cable, which, respectively, connects Cayman to Jamaica and Miami.

The company has defended itself against critics who suggested the current infrastructure was nearing the end of its life.

Cable & Wireless said it was continuously investing into the submarine cable with sufficient capacity to satisfy demand for years to come. A third submarine cable would also not bring material improvements in latency.

Others, however, argue that a new cable would provide much-needed redundancy on the network and help create the competition necessary to bring down costs.

A Strategic Economic Advisory Council set up to find economic opportunities amid the fallout of the pandemic concluded that Cayman should create the fastest, best and cheapest internet that is accessible by everyone.

A third subsea internet cable would not be expected to improve much in terms of speed, but the council found that higher capacity at a lower price and redundancy would be necessary to attract large tech companies to the island.

Whether a third subsea cable alone could achieve that is a matter of debate.

The desire to achieve lower prices for the consumer may also require more hands-on regulation.

Some suggest that rather than invest in a subsea cable, government should use the money to set up a dedicated telecommunications regulator capable of dealing with billion-dollar companies.

Whether there is a business case for an additional subsea connection remains to be seen.

Deep Blue Cable, a project by billionaire Digicel founder Denis O’Brien, announced four years ago that it would lay a new, 7,456-mile subsea cable that would connect to 12 markets, including Cayman, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

Lately, Cayman no longer figures in those plans.

At the end of September 2021, the company said that in partnership with Orange it would lay the Caribbean Deep Blue One cable to connect French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago.

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