November 30, 2008

The Way Forward: Utilizing Fiber Optic Technology for Sustainable Economic Development

Image: U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency
In a post entitled "Innovative Use of Broadband Technology," I discuss a couple of ways broadband technology can help small businesses. Having a fiber optic connection is an essential component to utilizing broadband technology. My colleagues and I are developing a project utilizing fiber optic technology and information and communications technology (ICT) to implement social and economic development initiatives in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). One significant outcome of our proposal is create a digital strategy that will be incorporated into the FSM's national development strategy.

Photo: FSM
Visitors Board
The FSM is a country located in the West-Central Pacific Ocean consisting of 607 islands grouped into four states. According to the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) 2007 FSM Business Opportunities Report, "Though the islands span an area of more than one million square miles, the total land area of the FSM is a mere 271 square miles – roughly a quarter of the size of Rhode Island." With a population of 110,400, the FSM's exports for 2005 were valued at $1.3 million compared to $20.1 million in 2003, mostly generated from tourism, agriculture, and fishing licenses. Conversely, the FSM's imported $117.5 million in goods in 2005 up from $108.9 million in 2003. According to the OIA, "The FSM is also expected to receive approximately $2 billion from the U.S. in direct economic assistance through 2023 as part of the country’s Compact of Free Association agreement."

The focus of our project is to utilize fiber optic technology to implement social and economic development initiatives that will increase FSM's exports and reduce the reliance of certain imports. Our proposal focuses in developing initiatives in education, health care, capacity building in the public sector, public infrastructure development and maintenance, and private sector development.

Photo: FSM
Visitors Board
Fiber optics will help implement distance learning programs at all education levels, from primary schools to continuing education for professional adults. People living in countries like the FSM are often disconnected with modern technology and another objective in our proposal is to bridge the digital divide. In addition, professional and technical trades can be taught in virtual classrooms using videoconferencing by experts located at foreign institutions or companies.

There are several telemedicine programs in the FSM, but fiber optic technology will help implement programs that will diagnose and treat patients in distant locations, monitor patients with chronic illnesses or diseases, create electronic medical records for FSM citizens, and provide essential healthcare information and valuable resources.

Capacity in the public sector includes creating a comprehensive system for national and state governments to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate more efficiently. One outcome is to streamline government operations and create an Institute for e-Government to provide timely and necessary information and services to FSM citizens. Regarding public infrastructure development and maintenance, fiber optic technology will enhance operations at the FSM's airports, seaports, and provide value-added public services including telecommunication and high-speed Internet services.

According to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat's Pacific Regional Digital Strategy, "The Pacific has problems caused by large distances, small scale and scattered populations and markets, and a low level of investments in telecommunications and human resources. All these problems can be addressed and the development of ICTs accelerated, by selection of appropriate mechanisms for cooperation, market integration and provision of services on a regional basis." The first step in overcoming the specific challenges in the FSM is creating a realistic development plan utilizing fiber optic technology.

Photo: FSM
Visitors Board
The Pacific Regional Digital Strategy further explains: "Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) are a significant and vital sector in the Pacific economy. ICTs have the potential to globally expand the markets for SMEs and shrink their costs, thus removing their isolation-related problems. To utilize this potential requires improved financial access to ICTs, more access to customers within the region, and better legal and financial environments. The ability of people to develop ICTs and use them, at both the business and consumer ends, needs significant improvement." Having the technological tools and training will provide SMEs the ability to grow regionally and compete in a global economy. By utilizing the advantages of fiber optic technology, the FSM should be able to increasing its exports, which fell by 94 percent from 2003-2005.

FSM President Emanuel Mori has continuously stated that broadband connectivity is one of his administration’s priorities. Our proposal to utilize fiber optic technology for social and economic development that will help FSM's citizens to become more self-sustaining and less reliant on outside resources. There are several examples where fiber optic technology has benefited countries similar to the Federated States of Micronesia and I invite you to share your comments and recommendations.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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