St Helena, a 'small British village' in the mid-Atlantic, is seeking support and funding for a broadband connection
A campaign is underway to connect the tiny British territory of St Helena to an internet cable that will be laid beneath the Atlantic Ocean.
Described by residents as "a small British village in the middle of the Atlantic", St Helena suffers from cripplingly slow internet connections with costs for residential packages going well above £100 per month.
The lack of communications on the island, which is home to more than 4000 people, is a major issue. The entire population currently shares a Cable & Wireless satellite connection which has only half the bandwidth of many individual UK households.
Estimates put the cost of connecting St Helena to a fibre-optic cable – due to be placed between Africa and South America – at around £6 million. This means overseas dependency will need assistance from the UK Government to raise the funds.
The island is one of the most isolated places in the world and lies some 1,200 miles off the west coast of Africa. It is perhaps best known as the final resting place of the exiled Emperor Napoleon.
Julian Morris, chief executive for economic development on St Helena, said the island's Government was keen to support the campaign to get St Helena better connected but the costs involved were ‘substantial'.
"There would need to be support from the British Government," he said. "You wouldn't lay a submarine cable to a village in the UK and we have to be mindful of what's realistic.
"It is something I'm working hard to make happen."
James Greenwood, an IT teacher who left the UK, to work on St Helena in 2011 said that the situation is hardly surprising given the island's position as a small village in the middle of the Atlantic.
"My home package gives me a 384kbit download speed and a cap of 6GB monthly bandwidth for £240 per month. I could download my entire monthly allowance in 10 minutes if I was still in the UK."
The company proposing to lay the trans-Atlantic cable, eFive, has already agreed to move its path to include St Helena. Campaigners are now seeking funding to access the cable.
Jonathan Clingham, an IT consultant born and raised on St Helena but now based in the UK, says life on the island is very British: "It's very British and it's a great life. St Helena doesn't have big shops and we depend on a boat for supplies. We fly the Union Jack and in many ways we're just like a little village in the British countryside."
Mr Clingham also says that isolation from the internet is driving people away from the island, "Kids grow up with limited internet access – no Youtube, not much access to email. Exposure to the digital age is quite limited.
"Once kids have left school, they go abroad."
The island's first airport is due to be completed in 2015 and it is hoped that interest in St Helena can help secure funding for better internet access.
Christian von der Ropp, head of the Connect St Helena campaign, said that in comparison the costs weren't substantial but the British government would need to fund it.
"The only way to get this cable landed is if the British government fund it," he said, "£250 million is being invested in the airport but the cable costs much less and has significant benefits for the island.
"The problem is, most islanders don't have good internet access and so they don't recognise the opportunities the cable could bring."
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