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City Profiles

The simple Internet of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

January 24, 2011  »  City ProfilesNo Comment

Updated January 2012.

The British overseas territories of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, although not per se African, are nonetheless geographically African. The islands, located just under 2,000 miles from Cape Town, share many attributes of rural areas of mainland Africa, notably the lack of infrastructure and GDP, which results in extraordinarily high connectivity costs.

Napoleon Bonaparte on St. Helena. Today, all things considered, the island remains just as remote. {http://www.nagel-auktionen.de}

Chris Doyle, Telecommunications Consultant, once told the South Atlantic Remote Territories Media Association that remote islands may not need the Internet:

There are some places on earth – their locations are such that they are not in close proximity to fibre optic cables and they are not in close proximity to the footprints of satellites.  As a result, to communicate with those places, whether its in Antarctica, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha and other places is necessarily very expensive.  Frankly there is little we can do other than recognise the fact that it is going to be expensive and for people who live in those locations to accept that it is expensive and it’s a way of life. – Chris Doyle, Telecommunications Consultant

Perhaps the island do not need copious amounts of streaming video and in-your-face social media, but residents seem to enjoy email functionality. Moreover, with only 8,000 residents, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan lack the potential to become a technology hub. Still, being considered cutting-edge isn’t always necessary. Sometimes practicality is more important than groundbreaking innovation. Included below is a brief time-line of Internet progress on the islands.

Ascension Island:

  • 1998: As part of a novelty of the era, Ascension Island and St. Helena sold .ac and .sh domains to entrepreneurs to raise money. Amazon and Motorola both purchased .sh domains. {Sarasota Herald Tribune}
  • 1998: The Islander newspaper went online. {The Islander}
  • 2000: Cost 10p per minute for 33.6kbps connection. {Yahoo Groups)
  • Government site

St. Helena:

  • 2010: Internet connections cost £6 per hour. {BBC}
  • 2010: 800 Internet users (10.4% of the population) {IWS}
  • 2011: Cable & Wireless charges £19.99 per month for 270MB of data usage at 128 kbits download speed. Faster speeds and more data allowance cost 6x as much. {helanta.sh}
  • 2012: The nation aims to secure a 155 MBit/s connection when the SAex cable is laid from Brazil to South Africa in 2012. Some investment is required to run the extra 50km of cable and lease an OC3 line. {Connect St. Helena}

Tristan da Cunha:

  • 1998: Internet arrives. {NYT}
  • 2000: 50 emails per day arrived at the island. {Tristan Times}
  • 2003: Outgoing e-mails cost £6.50 each. The average Tristan wage is £6.50 per day.
  • 2005: Emails cost 50p per minute, no Internet.
  • 2006: VSAT arrives, along with an Internet cafe. 12 lines at 256 kbps.