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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 August, 2004, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Samoa plans internet for all
By David Prosser
in Apia, Samoa

The Pacific island nation of Samoa is looking to the internet as a way of developing its economy.

Children play in a Samoan village
Only a third of Samoans have access to a telephone
Marina Popoey lives on the north coast of Upolu in Samoa and weaves mats for a living.

She is waiting for an internet connection to come to her village so that she can more easily contact her family in Australia and New Zealand.

They organise the sale of her handicrafts in overseas markets.

"At the moment a letter takes two weeks," she says. "With e-mail it's instant."

Marina's wish might now be granted as Samoa has recently become one of the first island nations in the Pacific to adopt a national strategy for information and communications technology (ICT).

This is a key component to unlocking overseas aid to pay for computer training, rural telecentres and e-government projects.

The United Nations Development Programme has already pledged US$400,000.

Global market

Samoa is at the the heart of tropical Polynesia. It has a population of 180,000, but only 30% presently have access to a basic telephone.

Marina Popoey
Marina Popoey is looking forward to having access to e-mail
Less than 2% ever use the internet. But the government plans a major drive to promote online access for all.

"Samoa is very isolated from the rest of the world," says Fuatai Purcell, Secretary of the National ICT Steering Committee.

"It takes four hours to fly to New Zealand, the nearest developed country. ICT will reduce the barriers of distance for us."

She foresees the day when a computer-literate population sells Samoan goods such as woven bags and Polynesian prints over the internet, promoting economic growth.

The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Aiono Malielegaoi, says the advantages from ICT in the areas of education and health is potentially limitless.

"I have seen instances where specialists in hospitals thousands and thousands of miles away are providing the valuable direction to local technicians to perform very difficult operations," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

Porn concerns

In this rush to embrace new technology, there are some warning voices.

Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Aiono Malielegaoi
The internet is OK so long as we impose the necessary controls to cut out pornography which would be damaging for our people
Tuilaepa Sailele Aiono Malielegaoi, Samoan prime minister
"One of the things that I worry about is how this exposure is going to impact on the culture," says Ioanna Chan-Mow, Dean of the Faculty of Science and the National University of Samoa.

"We're exposing ourselves to a whole lot of philosophies and ways of life, bringing in a lot of western values."

Samoan culture is centred around the traditional family unit, each headed by a Matai or Chief. Attendance at Christian church services is high.

Of particular concern to many people is internet pornography.

At one of the few private schools which provided pupils with internet access, the PCs had to be moved after it was discovered children had been accessing inappropriate websites.

The prime minister believes the benefits of the internet will far outweigh any disadvantages.

"The internet is OK so long as we impose the necessary controls to cut out pornography which would be damaging for our people," he says.

"This aspect of control will always be with us."

Net controls

The Samoan government plans to update and tighten laws to penalise anyone downloading pornography.

Teacher training in Samoa
Teachers are getting to grips with the new technology
But it has backed away from an earlier plan, promoted by the prime minister, to develop a national filter.

This would have required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to attempt to block pornographic websites.

ISPs argued this was technically difficult and may have forced them to block legitimate websites, such as those providing health information.

"If developed countries like New Zealand, Australia and America are struggling with this issue it will be almost impossible for a developing country like Samoa to achieve it," says David Main, technical manager for the ISP called CSL.

"How do you know when a health site is talking about the human anatomy or a sex site is talking about the human body?"

David Prosser's report from Samoa was featured on Go Digital. He travelled to Samoa to look at the role of technology in development for the BBC World Service Trust. The Trust is the international development arm of the BBC, tackling poverty with communication development projects.

Country profile: Samoa
18 Jun 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Samoa
11 Aug 04  |  Country profiles
Nations wrestle with internet age
15 Dec 03  |  Technology
UN summit pledges net for all
12 Dec 03  |  Technology

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