Digicel Press Release–For decades, Fiji was deemed too far and too small to be a viable telecommunications market.  All that changed last week with the announcement of Digicel’s entry into the mobile market in Fiji.  For a country that suffered through a bloody colonization process and instability in the short years of independence, this signals momentous change.  The high prices and poor service that have historically shackled communications in Fiji will hopefully become a thing of the past.   If we can use Digicel’s track record in other countries as an indicator, they just might be.

Fiji takes a tremendous leap toward competition and economic liberalization with the granting of a operator’s license to Digicel, a Caribbean-based operator with presence in 20+ countries with similar profile to Fiji.

Contrary to prior reports, the government auction process did not hand out two licenses for mobile operators. Digicel pays the government US$10.25 million for the right to be the only mobile operator to go up against Vodafone.

Fijilive says that Digicel has already put in place pieces of an estimated FJ$120 million cellular communications network. According to their own press release, the company also intends to make Fiji the headquarters of its regional operations, eventually employing as many as 250 full-time and an equal number of part-time employees.  You can find the press release attached to this post (Thanks to D).

With much of its infrastructure already in place, the company plans to roll out services in 2009.  Consumers can expect prices to drop sharply and competition for services to increase as Digicel puts on the pressure to become the operator of choice for all of Fiji. Enough cannot be said about Digicel’s track record in other countries in the South Pacific.

The high cost of cell phone usage under the Vodafone monopoly will soon be a part of Fiji’s past. Vodafone and ATH’s large profits have come at the expense of high prices, zero competition, and stifled economic growth.  For modern economies, communication is by far the most important business tool. With lowered costs for communication in Fiji, the hope is that technology will become accessible to those who may have not been able to afford it before.  Costs to businesses should decrease, increasing overall productivity.

The liberalization in the telecommunications sector bring a wide range of benefit.  Where Vodafone was slow to release anything but the most basic services and features, competition from Digicel will bring to users in Fiji services that they have not seen thus far.  Expect new services in mobile internet, video streaming, and other high-end data services as Vodafone can no longer take your recharge card dollars for granted.

It was not long ago that few strands of cable were what connected Fiji to the outside world.  Satellite communications and fiber-optic cables have brought Fiji a long way since those early days (which were not too long ago).

There are some serious questions that remain about this move toward economic liberalization and competition.

How much of the US$10.25 million will go toward the establisment of universal accesss schemes for mobile and internet? If you have read earlier posts on this site, then you know that universal access is something that is very important to the authors of this site.  We urge Mr. Ricketts to come forward and outline how service will be expanded to rural areas.  Widening access to technology should be a key benchmark by which this current round of liberalization should be measured.

Additionally, what are the details and specifics of the Telecommunications Authority of Fiji, the new regulatory body being set up to oversee the industry?  More to come, so the only thing we can all do is stay tuned as the developments come in.