Internet Niue will forever be remembered for being the first WiFi country. It’s Free WiFi initiative was a bold move especially on a small remote island in the South Pacific.
Back in the late 1990s, IUSN (Internet Users Society of Niue) a charitable organisation, applied and was later delegated as manager of the Niue .nu ccTLD (Country Code Top Level Domain) by IANA. As part of it’s goodwill offer, IUSN set out to provide free Internet access through an initiative called Internet Niue. It began it’s limited services with dial-up and by 2003 it had started testing WiFi in downtown Alofi.
On 5 January 2004 Category 5 Cyclone Heta struck Niue with a force that ravaged the tiny island. Part of the capital was completely wiped out by the waves that rose over the 20m upraised coral cliffs. As a result of this devastation, we had to rebuild our network infrastructure but with better understanding for the forces of nature as well as the environment that our wireless had to go through.
We worked with local organisations known as Village Councils (VC) and used their meeting halls as sites for our access points. We also partnered with some private sector businesses and home owners to enable the distribution of WiFi to be extended across the narrow villages that followed the main road. There’s no mountains or hills so we were able to utilise existing towers to install our major backhaul wireless links. Initially we used empty cat food cans to build our antennaes and these worked well. But advancements in design and technology including the decrease of prices in equipment have allowed us to extend further. We now cover 13 of the 14 villages on the island of Niue.
A lot has changed since our first trial links back in 2003 but the vision has remained the same, to provide WiFi to the local communities. For a long period, the island was able to enjoy free internet but as time passed, we had to adapt the way we operated to be able to cope with changes occurring in the domain name (TLD) world especially with the arrival of new gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains). Our funding is dependent on the sales of the .nu domain names and we have had several years of having the luxury of free services. The main problem with the Free WiFi setup was that over time with the growth of users, the services was degraded. So a change to the system was needed as we head into the future if we were going to survive.
By the beginning of 2016, plans were activated which allowed us to upgrade our satellite bandwidth with assistance from Speedcast. We started the new venture of charging people and built a system to become a commercial ISP, Kaniu (www.kaniu.nu). We still get subsidised with funding for the satellite bandwidth from IUSN but we’ve had to engage our users and charge them a fee of $50/unlimited per month to cover the local operations. The uptake has been promising and we aim to continue offering more bandwidth to our users.
But when implementing these changes, the Government of Niue felt that we had violated some Niue Telecommunications laws and regulations and requested us to cease services. We adhered to that directive, even though we believed we had not broken any laws or regulations, and gave notification to our 600+ users as we turned off all our services in March 2016. Users that benefited from the Internet access provided, voiced their concerns and later on the same evening we received the authorisation to resume our services much to the delight of our users. We have continued to meet and discuss with the government what their concerns and requirements are as we intend to maintain our operations in Niue, in a small market that is developing.
We have invested a lot of effort and resources so we will continue to do what we do best.
In 2011, Internet Niue won the ISIF Award for Localisation and Capacity Building. I was invited to Nairobi, Kenya to the IGF (Internet Governance Forum) to receive the Award. It was an amazing experience to meet other award winners and share with them, but there were far greater benefits that grew organically from it.
Personally, I was able to leverage the opportunity of winning the award and be able to participate and contribute to the regional PICISOC, Internet Society, ICANN (APRALO) as well as the Pacific IGF and New Zealand NetHui. It has been an exciting journey but moreso the recognition for the work of Internet Niue and Rocket Systems both on the island and internationally. It helped to grow my professional network and enabled my participation and exchange of ideas around the biggest issue in the Pacific Islands, specially for rural and remote locations: connectivity. We have taken up the opportunity with Kacific’s upcoming service and we’re very excited that their first interim service is active in Vanuatu. With this kind of an opportunity including the Hawaiki project underway, the future for our Pacific People looks promising and we can finally realise the dream of becoming more engaged in the digital economy. Even though I still manage our Niue project, I have found more opportunities in the land of the long white clouds, Aotearoa New Zealand. I am currently involved in the Makanet project that will see the use of the Kacific service to deliver broadband to rural and remote locations in New Zealand. This will be a major undertaking and the potential to connect the under-served communities of New Zealand is similar to our own Pacific under-served communities.
The ISIF programme has assisted some great projects in the past and I’m sure it will continue to help others grow to greater heights. So if you’re interested in using this great resource to develop and gain more exposure for your work, please don’t hesitate to apply at http://isif.asia/award
I’ll be happy to connect with anyone who is wanting more information about our ISIF Award experience as well as our ongoing projects in the Pacific.