20 years after volcanic destruction, British island gets new Internet link

Kelly Fiveash
More than twenty years after a devastating volcano left the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat covered in ash, and destroyed its capital city of Plymouth, the UK government has agreed to pump nearly £5 million into the British overseas territory to help fund the rollout of underseas fibre optic cabling.
The project, which is expected to complete next year, promises to provide the island's occupants with access to a superfast broadband network. The submarine cable will apparently be laid between Montserrat and Antigua, and Montserrat and St Kitts and Nevis.
A map of current-day Montserrat, showing the exclusion zone caused by volcanic eruptions.
A map of current-day Montserrat, showing the exclusion zone caused by volcanic eruptions.
At present, Montserrat is forced to rely on "a precarious and expensive microwave link with Antigua," the department for international development has said. "The lack of fibre connectivity has been one of the main constraints affecting Montserrat’s prospects for economic growth," it added. Montserrat had previously been hooked up to the undersea branch of the Eastern Caribbean Fibre System—but the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano destroyed the connection.
As of 2011, 4,900 people were living on the island—a dramatic fall from a population above 10,000 prior to the series of volcanic eruptions that began in July 1995. Montserrat's economy collapsed as workers were forced to abandon the ash-laden and unstable Plymouth area of the island. It has relied heavily on British aid ever since.
However, the UK government has been criticised in the past for taking a "piecemeal" approach to dishing out funds to Montserrat. Investment in submarine optic cabling was recommended by the independent overseas aid watchdog, ICAI, which—in 2013—called on the department for international development to consider "how the potential benefits from a fibre optic connection might provide a robust enabling strategy for the island's sustainability across sectors."
But critics have attacked Whitehall's decision to spend £4.95 million on the project, which will also receive nearly £51,000 from local telcos alongside £150,000 allocated from the European development pot.
Tory MP Grant Shapps—a former DFID minister who has campaigned for faster broadband speeds across the UK—told the Sun:
It will be far easier to maintain support for overseas aid if we can get our own infrastructure needs in order. Super speed broadband isn’t just some nice to have extra, it’s vital to British success outside of the EU and we need to get every British home and business connected and world beating speeds.
Ars sought comment from the DFID on this story. It told us: "Following the devastating volcanic eruption in the UK overseas territory, we’ve met our legal obligations to Montserrat by investing in the vital infrastructure needed for the island to stand on its own two feet again."
Aerial view of the slopes of the Soufrière Hills, showing the destruction and complete loss of the capital of Monserrat, Plymouth, and St. Patrick's village.
Aerial view of the slopes of the Soufrière Hills, showing the destruction and complete loss of the capital of Monserrat, Plymouth, and St. Patrick's village.
However, it hadn't got back to us at time of publication to explain why the government had taken so long to meet its legal obligation under the UN Charter, which demands that basic infrastructure is in place for overseas territories.
Whitehall has claimed that lifting Montserrat out of what is understood to be one of the most expensive and slowest Internet connections in the region, by increasing the bandwidth, will help the island's residents to better cope in the event of a natural disaster. It's also hoped that Montserrat can build its economy and create jobs.
Listing image by Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images
20 years after volcanic destruction, British island gets new Internet link Reviewed by Bizpodia on 23:12 Rating: 5

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