Interview: Jimmy Miringtoro

As telecoms services become cheaper elsewhere, why do they remain expensive in PNG?

JIMMY MIRINGTORO: The telecoms sector had a late start in PNG; at the time of independence the government had different priorities and we are still paying the consequences of that oversight. When the market finally opened up to competition in 2007, Digicel quickly became the market leader. It virtually became a monopoly and, as is often seen in emerging economies, this lead to prohibitive prices, especially for voice and internet services. We are now working in cooperation with the International Communications Union to introduce new laws and regulations to establish price controls.

Affordability remains a serious issue, especially in the most remote areas. Our long-term objective is to ensure that information and communications technology (ICT) will be affordable and accessible to the people of PNG. We are confident that, as the infrastructure improves, telecoms prices should fall over the next few years.

What are the government’s priorities in terms of creating a more competitive environment?

MIRINGTORO: Introducing another operator remains a priority, as competition will push prices down. I am happy to say that the National Information and Communications Technology Authority has approved the license for Dubai-based AWAL Impex International, and they have committed to rolling out services over five years. The firm plans to reach remote areas that bmobile and Digicel considered uneconomical, such as island areas where the population is very spread out.

The national broadband network, which is under construction, is also expected to have a transformative effect on the sector, as it will create a low-cost backbone for domestic and international access. Part of the fibre-optic network will follow the length of the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas project, and we expect to commission it at the beginning of 2014. The final connection to the PPC-1 Pipe Cable System, which connects PNG internationally, is due to be complete by 2015.

How much scope is there for another player, given the size of the market and cost of providing access?

MIRINGTORO: There are different market forces around the world and each corporation sees business opportunities in a different way according to their specific strategies. I believe that the next few years will be very exciting for PNG’s telecoms sector, as we anticipate the XV Pacific Games in 2015 and the APEC meeting in 2018. This new infrastructure, coupled with a new operator, makes PNG a very interesting market, and we feel that the country is on the cusp of big changes. Scepticism remains, but that is true for virtually any industry.

What has been the contribution of the government so far in rolling out new infrastructure?

MIRINGTORO: Telikom, which is fully owned by the Independent Public Business Corporation of PNG, signed a deal with Huawei, of China, to embark on a two-year programme of investment and to grow fixed-line broadband business while developing 4G mobile internet services. On the government side we will have to create the conditions for business to thrive, and that means facilitating the issuing of licences.

How important will ICT be for PNG’s development?

MIRINGTORO: We are a very diverse country, with 900 languages and 800 different cultures, so the process of integration has never been easy for us, but we feel that technology will be instrumental in speeding it up. The government takes the ICT sector very seriously, and if we do things right we will be able to deliver new services such as e-Education, e-Health and e-Government applications in the future. I am thinking also of the socioeconomic impact in provinces with a turbulent past, such as the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and the role that ICT could play in attracting new investment to maximise the region’s wealth of natural resources. I have no doubt that PNG could turn into a homogeneous society by 2030, and that the ICT sector will be one of the main drivers in the process.