Requiring Powerful Imagination for Digitizing Papua – Building a wireless or wired telecommunications network in the world, there is nothing as difficult as Indonesia for an area that could be the same size as the United States from its east coast to its west one. America has completed the construction of its network since the 1980s, in line with the discovery of generation 1 (1G) cellular technology with its AMPS (advanced mobile phone system).

Not much different from the beginning with the US, in the early 1990s Indonesia recognized AMPS and NMT (nordic mobile telephone) technology, the latter of which was based in Scandinavian countries. But until now, when the cellular generation has reached 5G, there are still around 26.5 million Indonesians who have not been served, 5G is wasteful, some of them are minus 1G. The geographical condition of Indonesia, which consists of more than 17,000 islands – with 250 languages ​​of instruction – makes network deployment very difficult. Nearly 10 percent of Indonesia’s 272 million population live in the frontier, outermost and underdeveloped areas (3T), 65 percent of which live in Papua, West Papua, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), and Maluku.

Geographical constraints with a low population density, separated by thousands of islands, forests and hills, make the attractiveness of 3T for mobile telecommunications operators completely non-existent. Don’t imagine that the number of villagers in Papua or NTT is the same as in Java, their number may be the same as residents of one RW or RT in Jakarta.

The public service agency (BLU) at the Ministry of Communications and Informatics, BAKTI (Indonesian Telecommunications Accessibility Agency) is tasked with building 3T with funds from 1.25 percent of cellular operators’ gross revenues, Rp 2.6 trillion to Rp 3 trillion/year. With USO (universal service obligation) funds, only 1,682 BTS (base transceiver stations) were built in 2015 to 2020 in 1,675 villages/kelurahan, 1,435 BTS of which are in the 3T area.

Over the next 10 years, 7,904 BTS of 4G cellular telecommunications are planned, but it will be accelerated to only two years, 4,200 BTS in 2021 and 3,704 BTS in 2022. Added from the State Budget and other sources of USO funds to IDR 17 trillion this year, for next year Rp 24 trillion was proposed but only Rp 14 trillion was approved because the amount depends on the state’s financial condition. It is not easy for BAKTI Kominfo to build in Papua and West Papua, apart from the geographical conditions that separate the inhabitants of one village by sea, forest and hills as well as community customs.

 One BTS was built at the top of the hill with the hope that it could reach the whole village, only operating briefly. The absence of a BTS watchman makes vandalism happen, people destroy their devices, without economic motives, but they also don’t understand the damage that causes BTS to go out. In the end, BTS was moved to a village where there were residents, and one resident was the guard. Not many people outside of Papua understand that the incredibly strong social issue regarding customary [ulayat] rights makes the existing lands as the property of the community.

When a plot of land was bought in full to build a BTS, several years later there were tribesmen who felt they had not got a share in claiming the land by occupying it. It takes an “eccentric” mind to deal with it, and BAKTI has succeeded in overcoming it by borrowing and using land owned by the local government for the construction of BTS. The community donated 20m X 20m of land – not an issue for Papua compared to urban areas in Java, for example – to the local government who directly takes care of the IMB, loaned to BAKTI free of charge for 10 years. “Out of the box” there are around 1,600 sites that the local government has loaned to BAKTI in Papua, and another 2,800 in NTT. “The borrow-to-use process is faster than the development process.

It’s the opposite of before, in the past Bakti was pursuing the local government over land,” said Director of BAKTI Kominfo, Anang A Latif. When the land issue is “completed”, building a backbone network is also not easy to reach the final destination such as the Palapa Ring, which requires funds for integration with other fiber optic networks when it has to go further. Also the Satria HTS (high throughput satellite) satellite, which will be launched in 2023, will reach 150,000 points throughout Indonesia, connecting people even in remote places. Establishing one BTS in one village, if in Java, it can be said to solve the problem of telecommunication services because all residents can access it.

In Papua or NTT, residents of one village living scatteredly, bordered by straits, hills and dense forests, need to install repeaters because some of them are not covered by BTS signals. But that’s not enough, human needs will always increase, especially when Satria with a capacity of 150 GB only divides 1.14 GB per user. Even if there are Satria 2A and 2B satellites with a capacity of 300 GB, they will only be able to provide a capacity per user of up to 2.29 GB.

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