Satellite broadband provider Kacific has been authorized to provide communications services to Tonga by the local government.

Earlier this month a large underwater volcano erupted close to Tonga, triggering tsunamis reaching heights of almost three feet in places. Both cables serving the nation have been broken and repairs are estimated to need at least two weeks. While there are reportedly some satellite connections available, a government-procured backup hadn’t been activated over a dispute about money.

The company said this week that it has now been cleared by the Tongan telecommunications regulator to provide services to several telecom operators and service providers within Tonga.

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– Getty

The breakthrough happened on Thursday, when the regulator lifted a ban on the use of Kacific’s services, which Kacific said it understands was imposed due to arbitration proceedings between Kacific and the Tongan Government.

The two parties had been in dispute over $5.7 million that hadn’t been paid to the satellite firm by the Tongan government.

As a result of the breakthrough, Kacific has been offering more than 1Gbps of satellite capacity to Tonga’s telecom operators and service providers since last Friday, which is already being used by some customers.

“We’re extremely pleased that we have now been able to resolve the impasse in providing connectivity,’ says Kacific CEO, Christian Patouraux. “We have many friends and partners in Tonga who are aware that we understand and deeply sympathize with the difficulties they have been facing. Their efforts have helped us secure the approvals we needed to provide this essential service.”

In 2019, in the wake of a 12-day subsea cable outage, the Tongan Government signed a 15 year deal with Kacific for remote island connectivity and fiber back-up; the deal was supposed to see Kacific’s Kacific1 satellite used to connect communities in 89 remote outer islands. However, the deal had been sitting in arbitration in Singapore unactivated. The previous Tongan government said the contract was void as the government-owned company that made the agreement did not have the right to enter into the contract and that it was signed without Cabinet approval. DCD has reached out for further information to confirm the status of the arbitration.

Local telco Digicel has since confirmed that limited international calling capabilities have been restored in Tonga via 2G satellite. Domestic calls are also possible.

Over the weekend SpaceX CEO Elon Musk offered to provide Starlink services to the island, tweeting: “Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?”

New Zealand politician Dr. Shane Reti also tweeted asking if Musk could provide services to Tonga in the wake of the volcano, but seems there hasn’t been clear confirmation from Tonga’s own government.

“This is a hard thing for us to do right now, as we don’t have enough satellites with laser links and there are already geo sats that serve the Tonga region. That is why I’m asking for clear confirmation,” Musk noted in a further post.

Internet monitoring services such as Cloudflare and Kentik are noting limited traffic coming out of Tonga, suggesting some connectivity is slowly being restored.

The 2019 cable outage was caused by a Turkish-owned boat that got the cable caught in its anchor; such incidents are common and account for up to 90 percent of cable outages.

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