Submarine cables are Guam’s buried treasure; island pushed as telecom hub

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A number of submarine telecom cables connect Guam with the rest of the world.

Lawmakers and private telecommunications companies on island are pushing for the development of Guam as a telecom hub in the region, given the many telecom submarine cables that already pass through the island.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it has already finalized an environmental assessment and issued a permit for the RTI Solutions submarine fiber optic telecommunications cable to pass through the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

This now paves the way for RTI to install the cable connecting Japan, Guam, and Australia. The cable, proposed to be laid directly on the seabed through the monument, would provide telecommunications interconnectivity between Guam and Australia.

Gateway

RTI is the same company that local telecom provider GTA entered into a joint venture with for the construction of Gateway Network Connections, which will serve as Guam’s first combined neutral cable landing station and data center.

GNC is expected to provide seamless interconnection for both existing and new cables coursing through Guam, providing onward connectivity between and among Asia, Australia, and the United States.

The new cables coming to Guam include the Japan-Guam-Australia North Cable System (JGA North) connecting Tokyo and Guam, the Japan-Guam-Australia South Cable System (JGA South) connecting Sydney and Guam with a branch to Australia’s Sunshine Coast, and the Hong Kong-Guam Cable System (HK-G) connecting Hong Kong and Guam.

JGA North, JGA South, and HK-G will interconnect with one another at GNC’s neutral facility, and GTA’s network will allow for seamless connectivity between GNC and other active cables landed on Guam.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero, in a statement, said Guam has always had strategic importance in the telecommunications field.

“This investment underscores our administration’s commitment to strengthening our telecommunications infrastructure and ultimately providing new economic opportunities for our island. We congratulate GTA and their partners in achieving this important milestone, and we look forward to their continued contributions to our island and people,” the governor said.

Unlock

Roland Certeza, CEO of GTA, said the GNC project will unlock the value of more than $3 billion in undersea cables that land on Guam.

“GTA has the largest buried fiber footprint on Guam, which allows us to provide additional protection. In addition to the SEA-US Cable System in our Piti-I facility, GTA will also provide 24/7/365 technical support as part of our joint venture with RTI in GNC. GNC’s neutrality ensures a level playing field for both large and small companies who rely on Guam as a reliable, neutral hub to and from Asia,” Certeza said.

Scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2020, GNC will be an 11,800-square-foot Type 3 designed data center with approximately 250 racks of capacity and 2 megawatts of power.

The facility, which is engineered to withstand Category 5 Hurricane conditions and tsunami flooding, will be located adjacent to GTA’s existing CLS, where the Southeast Asia-United States Cable System (SEA-US) lands.

National attention

The push to develop Guam as a telecom hub has already caught the attention of national media.

Quartz, a global business news publication owned by Atlantic Media Co., recently published an article entitled “Tiny Guam is vying to be the world’s next big telecommunications hub” by Alexandra Ossola.

The article quotes GTA CEO Roland Certeza as saying that there are advantages to having the global internet cables connect through Guam because the island provides a good stopping point where the cables, which require electricity to transfer data, can be powered up. And because Guam is a US territory, it’s attractive to American businesses that might want to take advantage of its proximity to Asia and forthcoming fast internet speeds.

Quartz pointed out that GTA, in partnership with San Francisco-based cable owner RTI, has already invested in new cables and between the first quarter of 2020 and the end of 2021, four will be installed, connecting Guam to Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, and the US mainland.

With this new set of undersea internet cables laid both east and west of Guam over the next year or so, not only will GTA be able to provide super-fast internet connections for Guam’s residents and businesses, but it may also speed up the digital connections between customers in Asia and data centers in the US, Quartz predicted.

“All the cables before the ones we announced could transmit 10 gigabytes. These are 100-gigabyte cables, and we’re probably going to move to 1 terabit when suppliers make the tech available … If there’s an interest to connect one cable to another cable at another station, we’re the glue in between there. That’s our value proposition,” Quartz quoted Certeza as saying.

The Quartz article also quotes Certeza as saying that GTA wants to make Guam a destination for US-based tech companies to build their data centers because Guam is not just a US protectorate but also has a location of geopolitical importance, between the US and Asia, and the closer a data center is located to its end users, the quicker the speed of the internet access, with less latency.

Task Force

Here on Guam, Sen. Telo Taitague, just last Tuesday, completed a public hearing on Substitute Bill No. 56-35 (COR), which establishes a task force to review information, conduct a feasibility study, and develop policy recommendations concerning submarine cables connected to Guam.

Through its testimony during the initial public hearing on Bill 56, the Guam Economic Development Authority stated its support for providing potential tax incentives rather than potential taxation which may alleviate the possible disincentives to growing the industries that come with fiber-optic undersea cable landing stations on Guam such as the establishment of data centers.

“I’ll continue working closely with stakeholders and others who may be interested in this topic as we move forward and support the task force on submarine cables so that members will be able to ask the right questions, learn new information from industry experts and regulatory authorities, and come back to the legislature with recommendations that will help create new jobs and additional economic activity benefiting families and our island community,” Senator Taitague said.

Earlier, Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee, who chairs the Legislature’s telecommunications committee, said the undersea telecommunication cables running through Guam will create new opportunities for digital connectivity throughout the region.

“Guam is already becoming a digital bridge between Guam and Asia, expanding that effort based on an empirically driven study can create good-paying jobs for our people,” the senator said.

During a trip to Washington D.C., the senator met with the Office of Digital Services Industries of the U.S. Department of Commerce to discuss the development of the Japan-Guam-Australia Fiber Optic Cable System Project.

The JGA Project, which was announced in April 2018, is the product of Google’s January 2018 announcement that it would be expanding its cloud infrastructure with five new cloud regions and three new undersea cables.

According to the senator, GovGuam currently does not have the resources available to identify opportunities for the undersea cables so she has asked for technical assistance and financial support for a study of future Guam undersea cable projects.

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