The federal government will spend almost $80 million connecting smaller Pacific Island nations to a new trans-Pacific subsea cable to be be built by Google between Australia and the United States.
At least nine countries, including Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and Nauru, are set to benefit from the financing, which totals US$65 million (AU$103.3 million) with a US$15 million contribution from the US.
The South Pacific Connect initiative, announced on Thursday (AEDT), will link French Polynesia and Fiji with Australia and the US through two new subsea cables, named Honomoana and Tabua, while a new interlink cable will connect French Polynesia and Fiji.
Branching units will also be placed along the cables allowing other Pacific Island nations to take advantage of the initiative in the future, Google Cloud’s VP for global network infrastructure Brian Quigley said.
“This is one of the first projects of its kind in the Pacific, providing the ability to bring redundant international connectivity to a region that is susceptible to natural disasters,” he said, describing the initiative as a creating a “ring between Australia, Fiji and French Polynesia”.
Australia and the US will contribute US$65 million (AU$103.3 million) to the project, with Canberra reportedly providing US$50 million (AU$79.5 million) through the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility.
The finance will be directed towards “future submarine cable connectivity for Pacific Island countries”, according to a statement from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and US President Joe Biden.
Both nations plan to work with Google on branching units for the “federated states of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu”.
“Building on existing support to the region, this work will position all Pacific Island countries to achieve primary connectivity and for countries with existing access to secure options for critical redundancy,” the joint statement reads.
Vocus has been selected as the preferred partner to deliver the new submarine cable, which its chief executive Ellie Sweeney said would “significantly uplift the capacity, reliability and resilience of Australia’s international connectivity”.
“The system will establish three diverse Australian landings along with dual cable paths to the US, substantially improving the resilience of Australia’s critical connections to the world,” she said in a statement.
The announcement is the latest to coincide with Mr Albanese’s US state visit, which is principally aimed at determining a way forward with the trilateral AUKUS security pact.
Earlier this week, Microsoft revealed plans to invest $5 billion in Australia over the next two year to meeting growing demand for cloud services. It will also expand cybersecurity partnership with the federal government.
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