The lack of fast and affordable Internet access in Palau is a challenge for the Island Ark Project. High costs and low speed apply to private households as much as to educational and other institutions. Although task of overcoming the challenge seemed daunting at first, we seem to have found a solution!
Together with the helpful people at the Ministry of Education of Palau – particularly Director Debbie Tkel-Sbal and Edwel (“Ed”) Ongrung, who is from the technology department of the ministry – we found that a local server may be the best bet to host our platform. It seems like the ministry is able to sponsor a server, which is connected to a wider network spanning all public schools and libraries in Palau. This connection is so much faster than the Internet at these schools, although with 768 kbps it’s not quite high-speed. Though, that bandwidth should be sufficient to connect to the island-based server and access the Island Ark Project site to upload and download pictures, short videos and other media files.
The platform can then be used by Palauans at schools, in the ministry and public libraries – without a satellite connection to the Internet. This should improve the user experience and may make the platform much more attractive than any resources on the Internet.
The content on the local Palau server at the ministry will then be synced at night to the global server of the Island Ark Project, which is located in the United States. At night, there are few problems with the bandwidth, and in the next morning, people from Taipei to Pasadena will be able to access the newly created content and view comments. This is a solid solution and until the arrival of the fiber optic undersea cable in Palau, this may be the closest we can get to fast access. The next step regarding the access challenge relates to connection of private households and other institutions to the server.
We would like to thank Director Debbie Tkel-Sbal and Ed of the Ministry of Education very much for their support so far. We hope that the Island Ark Project side provides useful content for the educational activities of the ministry.
During the last couple of days I have been able to explore the Internet connectivity and telecoms ecosystem in Palau. I have also been able to set up first meetings with major stakeholders relevant to the work of the Island Ark Project. Walking around the rather small island of Koror, the economic powerhouse of Palau, while being grilled by the sun and 32°C, is taxing even if most places can be reached within twenty minutes. Though the temperature turned out to be the least of our problems: the accessibility of the Internet here in Palau created a major challenge for the project. Read this blog post to learn about the state of Internet access in Palau.
Internet Access. We already expected the lack of high bandwidth Internet access to be a main challenge for the usage of our online platform by Palauans. Now, after a short time on islands, it has become clear that a simple Internet-based option will likely not work in Palau. Internet access comes through various channels. Some people visit Internet Cafés or restaurants/cafés that offer free WiFi. Others rely on WiFi provided by public institutions – including the community college – or access the Internet at home through subscriptions with the Palau National Communications Commission (PNCC). The same company also offers hotspot services to hotels and local businesses to allow their guests to log onto the Internet using prepaid Internet cards sold at most stores. An hour costs $2.50; the bandwidth varies and is generally rather low. My host said that the speed is best between 1am at night and noon, due to lower overall usage by households and offices.
As you can see, the problem isn’t the last mile connection to the users, particularly in Koror which accounts for about two thirds of the Palau’s population. Instead, the lack of a fiber optic cable to Palau and the need to rely on expensive and slow satellite-based Internet represents the bottleneck. There is an undersea cable project underway but it may take four or five years to complete... or even longer. As Internet access is relatively slow and costly, our project – which is an online platform to upload and view or download multimedia files on traditional intangible culture – is seriously challenged. It is unlikely that many people in Palau are willing to spend their precious Internet time see an upload bar move slowly from left to right, while they could instead catch up on news or messaging their friends.
We will have to find a way to increase the accessibility if we want to stand a chance to provide a convincing culture-preservation service through an online platform. We are currently – from the US, Europe and here in Palau – looking into various opportunities to host content locally. Where there is a will, there’s a way!
Alii!* In late February, I arrived in the Republic of Palau to conduct research about the feasibility and requirements of the Island Ark Project. The Island Ark Project aims to build an online platform to enable people to preserve and transmit their intangible cultural heritage. If you read this and you have not heard about the Island Ark Project yet, we invite you to check out our website. This blog, contrary to the full website, aims to illustrate solely this ongoing phase of the project – the implementation of a pilot study in Palau. In total, this phase will take about six weeks. When that time comes to an end, I hope we will have learned much about intangible culture in Palau, about those who protect and transmit it, and how an online platform can support them achieving their goals.
Ahead of Ingmar, who will arrive in a couple of weeks, I will try to set up the foundations of our pilot study here in Palau. Specifically, I want to explore the opinions and ideas people have about the Island Ark Project and build a network of people passionate about the preservation and transmission of intangible cultural heritage.
I would like to thank all people and organizations funding this research exercise and hope that this blog can contribute to make our work here in Palau more transparent. Last but not least, I would like to thank the Island Ark team members – David, Blaine, Tess and Sanya – who are working diligently on the realization of the website and who are doing everything possible to make the project a success, but unfortunately cannot be in Palau this time.
Palau has provided me with a great welcome by its kind people and great natural wonders. I am looking forward to update you, the reader, on our progress and stories we have to share.