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Nauru: a tiny territory with large leverage

For most of the last century, Nauru relied on one source of income, phosphates. As is all too often the case with minerals, the primary resource exhausts itself, and as is all too often the case with a developing nation, there is no other source of income for its people...

For most of the 20th century, the tiny Pacific Island of Nauru relied on a single source of income, phosphate mining. As is all too often the case with minerals, the primary resource exhausts itself and, as is all too often the case with a developing nation, there is no other source of income for its people.

Following the exhaustion of the phosphate and with its environment severely degraded by mining, the government of Nauru turned to other less orthodox methods of earning a living. In the 1990s Nauru briefly became a tax haven. Unfortunately this attempt at self-sufficiency failed and after 2001 (and in an extraordinary twist) Nauru entered into an agreement with one of its larger neighbours. The Australian government gave Nauru money in exchange for Nauru becoming a detention centre for people seeking asylum in Australia.

Swansat's involvement came three years later when the Government of Nauru allowed it to file its application for deployment of its satellite system. The key lies in the fact that Nauru is an ITU member. This gave Swansat the opening it was looking for.

Nauru granted the licences in March 2004. Next, an Advanced Publication Information statement was filed by Swansat before the ITU and on behalf of the Republic of Nauru in April 2004.

By mid-2005, filing procedures had been commenced before the ITU with respect to recognition of Nauru's grants to Swansat of GSO orbital slot allocations and W-band assignments for the first Swansat constellation of spacecraft. The assignments in turn include 71 GHz-76 GHz and 81-GHz-86-GHz spectra located in Band 11 of the extremely high frequency 30-GHz to 300-GHz band.

For all its small size and a population of just 13,000, Nauru has the authority as an ITU member-state to license companies to operate space stations in W-Band. And this is exactly the commercial opportunity that Swansat is exploiting.

Both Nauru and Swansat are keen to stress that this is neither a case of a big corporation taking advantage of a poor country nor the situation of a desperate country grasping at a last economic straw. Instead, by adopting an economic-business model which is admittedly unusual and probably unique, both parties believe that Swansat will not only bring ubiquitous converged communications capabilities to the world and prosperity back to the Republic of Nauru but will also demonstrate that the economic model can go some way towards bridging the Digital Divide.

Even in the short-term and on a more localised basis, Swansat is providing the Republic of Nauru with free access to its system for educational use. *

* According to Nauru's Department of Education in August 2008, the island does not, and never has, enjoyed free access to the Swansat system for educational use. In 2005 Swansat committed to provide internet services with effect from January 2006 and that its satellite services would be available from 2010. (http://www.itu.int/wsis/goldenbook/search/display.asp?Quest=8061732&lang=en) The Swansat website now states that Swansat will not now commence operations until 2012. References to interim services have been removed from the site.

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