Marshall Islands poised to open telecoms market; Digicel waits in the wings

23 Feb 2015

The Marshall Islands parliament looks set to pass a controversial law that would open up the country’s telecoms market to competition. According to Radio New Zealand International, the bill – which is supported by the World Bank – passed its second reading this week. If the government presses ahead with the plans it stands to receive USD10 million in funding from the financial authority. According to the report, Marshall Island finance minister Jack Ading has strongly backed the bill and the opportunity for the large cash injection, despite concerns over the plan’s impact on state-backed Marshall Islands National Telecommunications Authority.

Critics of the plan have observed that the new telco will be allowed to utilise the NTA’s existing infrastructure, rather than rolling out its own networks, impacting heavily on the debt-wracked incumbent. In recent years the NTA has reportedly extended connectivity to around 20 remote outer islands, although none of these networks can function profitably due of the small number of users.

The report notes that Digicel Group has already expressed an interest in entering the market, should the legislation pass its final reading; the Jamaica-based, Irish-owned mobile group currently operates in Fiji, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, via its Digicel Pacific arm.

Marshall Islands, Digicel Group, Marshall Islands National Telecommunications Authority