Pacific Islands

Explore country-level data, tools, and resources to better understand and navigate digital ecosystems in the Pacific.

Pacific Islands Digital Ecosystem Country Assessment (DECA)

In the Pacific Islands region, high-quality infrastructure and information, communications, and telecommunications projects are critical to encouraging sustainable economic growth and providing faster, more reliable, and secure communications so communities share information and access early warning systems. The expansion of digital government services is also an anchor for encouraging broader digital transformation and catalyzing needed ICT and digital investments in the Pacific.

Pillar 1: Digital Infrastructure and Adoption

Significant advancements in connectivity infrastructure have taken place, particularly at the first mile, but last-mile connectivity remains a key challenge. Growing demand for broadband services across the Pacific resulted in rapid expansion of undersea cable projects with more than 10 international cables connecting 10 of the 12 DECA PICs. In many cases, undersea cable developments boosted bandwidth capacity and lowered costs for telecom providers. Regional experts are concerned that cable loans put PICs under considerable strain to repay debt. Satellite technology remains an important component of PICs connectivity infrastructure due to a variety of factors including gaps in fiber optic cable infrastructure and for network resiliency. The internet is predominantly mobile across PICs, driven by developments in telecom regulation and policy, and market liberalization. The mobile internet connectivity coverage gap decreased from 33% in 2018 to 14% in 2022 across PICs. However, mobile connection rates (SIM cards per capita) across the PICs range from more than 140% in Palau, Nauru and Fiji to below 40% in Tuvalu, PNG, FSM and RMI, with many remote and rural communities remaining unconnected. As the most populous country in the region, PNG has the largest unconnected population, with nearly 60% of the population unconnected.18 PICs with lower mobile connection rates tend to have limited telecom competition. In RMI, FSM, and Tuvalu, small populations and state-owned incumbent operators with entrenched political interests limit competition.

Emerging technologies and new approaches with the potential to disrupt the connectivity landscape in PICs are proliferating across the region, offering promise for expanding connectivity, boosting broadband speeds, building resilience, and strengthening digital ecosystems. LEO satellite technology has the potential to close the digital divide by providing reliable, flexible backhaul offering high-speed connectivity to underserved or unconnected areas across the Pacific. Despite the significant potential of LEO for last-mile connectivity, stakeholders hold mixed views on the suitability of LEO satellites for the region, given LEO providers’ varied business models and approaches across diverse digital ecosystems and regulatory environments. The lack of regulatory harmonization across PICs makes it challenging for LEO providers to navigate the many unique policy environments. Open RAN architecture offers opportunities to lower barriers to entry, promote vendor diversity, and support innovation in telecommunications markets across the region. Industry awareness and perceived readiness for Open RAN vary, providing rich opportunities for building knowledge, training, and support for Open RAN in the Pacific.

Infrastructure resiliency challenges, exacerbated by the region’s vulnerability to climate change, plague PICs, forcing countries into vicious cycles of response and recovery. Eight out of twelve DECA PICs have only one or no international undersea cables. Even for countries with more than one international undersea cable, networks face resiliency issues. UN entities such as WFP’S ETC have attempted to bolster preparedness and resilience in the region, but there is high potential for digital technologies to play a more central role in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

Low mobile adoption and significant mobile usage gaps caused by affordability challenges, low digital literacy, and lack of locally relevant content leave people behind and risk widening existing inequalities. Mobile broadband networks (3G and 4G) cover 86% of the Pacific region’s population, yet only 27% use mobile internet, leaving a 59% usage gap. The Pacific region has the second highest mobile usage gap worldwide behind Sub-Saharan Africa. Affordability challenges intensified by subsea cable loan debt, low digital literacy levels, and a lack of locally relevant content are primary reasons for low mobile adoption. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digitalization of services, heightening the urgency of addressing digital divides that play out across gender, geography, disability, and other factors. Lack of data on connectivity, access, and use of digital technologies prevents effective interventions and policies to address barriers. Digital risks such as fraud, online harassment, and exploitation of women are also a major concern for the region, particularly for countries with lower adult literacy rates and significant language diversity such as PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Steady progress is being made with stakeholders, including civil society groups and the private sector, in addressing digital literacy barriers and safety online for marginalized groups. However, interventions are disparate and often underfunded.

Pillar 2: Digital Society, Rights, and Governance

The proliferation of mis- and disinformation is a growing challenge across the region due in part to a shift in media consumption away from traditional broadcast to digital media, including to social media. There is an absence of local fact-checking and watchdog organizations and a lack of moderators fluent in Pacific languages. Local media organizations lack financial resources to hire, train, and retain journalists, which compromises reporting quality and allows undue foreign influence. Financial difficulties among media outlets stem from decreased advertising revenues, the digital transformation, and disruptions from the COVID19 pandemic. The move to online information consumption coincides with an increased use of online platforms to perpetuate violence against marginalized and vulnerable groups. Women journalists and politicians face online harassment and threats, often leading to offline violence and negative long-term professional implications for women.

In certain PICs, journalists face legal challenges to fair and free reporting online. The draft Media Development Policy in PNG contains provisions to regulate the media and to license journalists, and outlines sanctions for non-compliance. The repeal of the 2010 Media Industry Development Act (MIDA) is an opportunity to advance media freedom and freedom of expression in Fiji. Rural and remote communities face information poverty, where residents do not have access to traditional broadcast or digital media. Outside of urban centers, radio remains the most trusted source of news and information, overcoming connectivity and literacy barriers. The region has not yet developed legal and regulatory frameworks in terms of right-to-information laws and data protection and privacy legislation.

Government ICT ministries and their equivalents face challenges in digital system development and digital services maintenance due to low capacity exacerbated by difficulties in retaining talent. PICs rank among the lowest in the world on the UN E-Government Development Index and UN E-Participation Index. Digital ID initiatives are in development, although progress is fragmented and incomplete. While there is openness to open-source software and cloud computing, the absence of data privacy regulations in some cases undermines their adoption. The lack of platforms, applications, or initiatives that actively seek feedback from users hinders optimization of digital services according to the needs and preferences of users.

The Pacific Island region faces cybersecurity vulnerabilities due to an absence of comprehensive cybersecurity strategies, limited coordination with local advisory bodies, and low absorptive capacity. Donor support in cybersecurity is currently focused on capacity building and basic incident response training. Coordination among different advisory bodies and stakeholders is critical for effective cybersecurity measures. PICs have experienced notable cyber attacks in recent years targeting government services and critical infrastructure. Governments struggle to attract and retain skilled cybersecurity professionals who often migrate to the private sector or abroad after training. Cyber hygiene practices are weak, with few programs directly addressing this issue.

Pillar 3: Digital Economy

infrastructural limitations impede the transition to a Pacific digital economy, particularly in smaller economies. Digital trade and e-commerce takeoff are undermined by weak enabling factors including variables described above such as low digital literacy, gaps in cybersecurity, data protection and policy legislation, and unreliable connectivity. The region has seen some growth due to improved trade facilitation infrastructure and the adoption of international standards supported by UN agencies (UNESCAP, UPU, UNCTAD and UNCITRAL). Weak export competitiveness among Pacific MSMEs is reflected by negligible cross-border trade among PICs. MSMEs also lack the capacity to adopt digital tools to buy and sell goods and services online. While the region is experiencing an upturn in economic activity on digital platforms, most e-commerce activity is limited to consumer goods, food, handicrafts, and tourism.

Digital Financial Services (DFS) including branchless banking and mobile money have seen a slow increase in uptake. Despite challenges such as low financial literacy and regulatory uncertainty, DFS— especially mobile money and potentially QR payments play a significant role in financial inclusion in the PICs. However, commercial banks are not interested due to the small market sizes. Digital assets such as CBDC, stable coins, and crypto assets are gaining traction with countries like Fiji as they demonstrate high adoption rate, yet concerns about volatility and criminal use persist.

The digital talent pool, dominated by youth, is growing in response to the increased demand for local skills. However, out-migration and a lack of skilled workers result in a mismatch between supply and demand. The tech startup ecosystem is starting to grow but faces insufficient funding, lack of localization, and support for later-stage startups. Growth is hindered by a skill deficit and the low appeal of entrepreneurship. Governments and development partners are key supporters of the very early stage tech startup ecosystem.

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