Tuvalu's First ISP

Franck MARTIN <franck@sopac.org.fj>



Tuvalu is a Pacific Island country with a total population of about 10,000 people. It is composed of nine atolls; the capital is on Funafuti atoll.

Telecommunications in Tuvalu are mainly satellite based between atolls and with the rest of the world. Tuvalu Telecom Corporation has just upgraded its phone network with a digital link between Funafuti and Telecom New Zealand. The digital link now allows Tuvalu to use it to route Internet packets up to New Zealand.

Apart from a few expatriates and know-how people who dial overseas Internet service providers (ISPs) at international telecommunication costs, there has been no Internet connectivity offered to the vast majority.

The government of Tuvalu has decided to jump into the Internet revolution, partly because the Tuvalu Domain Name .TV is of high commercial value, and partly because the Internet could be a way to develop the country as well as put it on the map.

Tuvalu first requested SOPAC to study how to interlink government departments, then based on SOPAC recommendations the government approached the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to help them get the Internet started in Tuvalu. Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP) agreed to fund the project and contracted SOPAC as the implementation agency.

Setting up an ISP

The following list summarizes the important steps for setting up an ISP:

Some short explanations of these steps are needed. It is first important to identify all prerequisites for the creation of the ISP. As Tuvalu is two hours away by plane from the closest country, Fiji, it is important to go there with everything that may be needed. There are three basic items: equipment, Internet protocol (IP) addresses, and domain name.

Without equipment, there can be no ISP. The equipment includes all computers and routers but also the telecommunication equipment to establish the leased line to New Zealand.

All Internet appliances need an IP. There are two solutions: acquire one from the upstream ISP, or acquire a definitive set from the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC). Here also without IP, no routing is possible; therefore there is no connection.

Finally, a valid domain name is needed to present a Web page and offer mail services to customers.

It was decided to split the installation and training in half with two weeks in Suva, Fiji, and two weeks in Tuvalu. Fiji is a more suitable location to install, train, and test, as it is easier to order or obtain from overseas or a local supplier such things as a missing cable or a screwdriver. In Tuvalu there are no suppliers of electronic equipment, which creates another problem: people have computers but no modem.


It is important to know the conditions existing in the Pacific and particularly in Tuvalu. Tuvalu has only one flight connection to the rest of the world in a 40-seater plane. The airstrip covers an important part of Funafuti atoll. Sand, dust, and salt are everywhere and especially inside electronic equipment. Power outages are not rare and can last several hours. Fortunately the Telecom Office has its own backup generator. It is therefore essential to choose an equipment brand that has proven to be reliable.

IP addresses

In the Pacific the center in charge of giving IP addresses is APNIC, the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre. The minimum membership fee is USD2,500 per annum with USD1,000 for the first year. It is needless to say that the annual membership is a high cost to be paid for a country of 10,000 people. However, it was decided to go the APNIC way to ensure that Tuvalu is able to get its Internet independence. Tuvalu can decide anytime to change its satellite link and instead of connecting to New Zealand, connect to Australia, Hong Kong, or even the United States. In such cases, it is quite a burden to give back the IP to the upstream ISP to request a new IP to the new ISP. If Tuvalu owns independent IP, it allows them to be master of their link and therefore of the cost. After a few e-mails APNIC understood the situation and decided to reserve 64 classes C (or the equivalent in IP addresses) to Tuvalu. You can bet that it will be more than enough for many years to come.

The request of IP addresses was started two months before implementation to ensure that the IP is obtained well in advance, and that the upstream ISP is able to inform its own upstream ISP and prepare its routing table.

Despite all precautions, when the link was established to Telecom New Zealand, no routing table was set in New Zealand. Moreover it was difficult to do anything as it was Saturday and the administrator of the New Zealand ISP would not be at work until Monday. It is difficult to communicate your time constraint with your supplier. On Monday the routing table was finally set, but only the New Zealand-Australia route was established. The New Zealand-U.S. link was not enabled.

Domain name

The TV domain name is part of the famous CCTLD, Country Code Top Level Domain. The Pacific is highly fortunate with its domain names: Federated States of Micronesia FM, Kiribati KI(ds), Niue NU, Tonga TO, Tuvalu TV. Unfortunately the rest of the world may wish to stop this economical resource to countries who do not have so many resources available.

TV is particularly interesting as it targets companies that do not care to use a lot of money for their own good. Nobody in Tuvalu knew the Internet, and especially how much they can do with it. The TV corp was funded headed by a young lawyer, Jason Chapnick. Below are the TV records from IANA:

Tuvalu top-level domain (TV17-DOM)
Tuvalu Telecommunications Corporation
TV Domain Name:
TV Administrative Contact:
Chapnik, Jason (JC17889) jchapnik@NETCOM.CA
(416) 929-6808 (FAX) (416) 929-6843
Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
Hart, David (DH5150) perqup@ISTAR.CA
+1 (416) 724-6809 ext. (FAX) +1 (416) 724-6651
Record last updated on 06-Apr-1999.
Record created on 18-Mar-1996.
Database last updated on 29-Jan-2000 17:24:33 EST.
Domain servers in listed order:

Jason did a nice setup. He promised USD50 million to the Tuvalu government, created a website to pre-register domain names (www.internet.tv), and informed IANA that the computers owned by the Californian company HOSTPRO were the DNS for the TV domain.

When a domain name was required for the Tuvalu ISP, I contacted Jason to discuss a possible domain name. Tuvalu.TV was decided. However, at the time no domain name was enabled under the TV domain. The Government of Tuvalu told Jason to do his best. Jason sent my request to establish a DNS record for Tuvalu.TV pointing to the two future DNS: TV DNS server and Tuvalu ISP future server. The result was the creation of a website http://www.internet.tv/ on HOSTPRO computers. When I called HOSTPRO to rectify the situation, I was already in Tuvalu; I got a sales representative who didn't understand the request, and made mistake after mistake. To his credit we understood the following: HOSTPRO does know that their servers are top-level DNS for the CCTLD TV! The best start-up in history. Users paid several thousand of dollars to Jason to register a TV domain name, and HOSTPRO did the dirty work for USD10 per domain name.

Finally, after a heated argument via e-mail, I was able to reach a technical person in HOSTPRO. HOSTPRO policy is to forbid customers to talk to technical people for fear that the customers try to hire them. Finally, the Internet.TV domain was operational after five days.

Installation and training in Suva

During the time in Suva, it was decided to unpack all the equipment and install the ISP on a workbench.

The purpose was to ensure that everything is in working order before leaving for Tuvalu where spare equipment is nonexistent.

The choice of Cisco equipment was a no-brainer, as it is reliable equipment. The only part I have seen fail on a Cisco is the power supply, which can be easily replaced by a computer power supply, but do not expect to close the box!

The choice of the Internet server was more difficult. There were three options: NT, Linux, and the Qube. The Qube is a Mips-based computer fully set up with Linux configured for running an ISP. The first question was whether to use NT or Linux. NT is quite an easy system to use. However, to administer it correctly it is as complex as Linux. NT does not include all Internet applications and must be bought separately. The only advantage of NT was the possibility of quickly training a Windows 95 user to become a NT user. However, because of software costs, and because Linux KDE or Gnome environment is user friendly, Linux was chosen. The second question was whether to use Linux on a Compaq server or on the Qube. The Qube is a ready-made system for ISP with a web-based administration. However, not all software is present and it needs compilation (It is a Mips processor) and creation of a web administration interface. Such required components were interfacing with the Cisco in terms of authentication and authorization via radius and a billing software. Compaq servers are tough and with a RAID 5 card provide hardware redundancy. Also the window interface on a standard server allows any application to be easily installed via RPMs. Another point was that the computer department of the government of Tuvalu is already experienced with Compaq machines.

The installation of the Compaq server was straightforward with Mandrake 6.1. The software for doing the accounting is regulus from http://www.safe.ca/. This software has a web administration interface that allows pricing based on time of the day and availability of modems and is multilingual.

It was decided early to charge the connection time at a higher rate during working hours to encourage users to use the limited 64kbps during odd hours. Also regulus is able to disconnect selected users if too many modems are in use. It enables the setup of flat-fee users who get disconnected if too many full-fee users are online. And finally, regulus allows administrative pages to be created in several languages. It was decided to create in Tuvaluan the pages that allow customers to change their password and check their connection time. The Tuvalu language is spoken by about 30,000 people worldwide and is part of the cultural identity of this nation. Having the possibility to present web pages to Tuvalu in its own language will encourage Internet penetration.

It was also decided to offer a 5MB web page to all customers to encourage them to create locally based web content. One of Tuvalu's resources is the selling of stamps. This is quite huge in the economy of Tuvalu. To be able to offer the possibility of opening an Internet account with a page to present the new stamps is encouraging the development of e-commerce. A second major resource in the Tuvalu economy is the money earned by Tuvaluan seamen abroad. The Tuvalu Maritime school is inexpensively training qualified seamen who are used to living in an isolated place. However, the contracts oblige them to go abroad for more than a year. To be able to stay in touch with what is happening back home is important. Providing such facility to Tuvalu placing agencies via web hosting is important.

Installation and training in Tuvalu

As everything was tested in Suva, we didn't encounter major difficulties with setting up the ISP. The problems were linked with the interfaces of the ISP: link to New Zealand, Local Phone Lines, Domain Name, routing tables, pricing.

Here is the final setup, to compare with the first picture:

How did we get there?

To establish the link with New Zealand, a digital switching device, DXC30, was used. One slot out of eight was reserved for the Internet, while the others were used to carry voice to New Zealand. Telecom Senior technicians are often overseas on training, and it is important to adapt quickly to unknown equipment. After the DXC30 manuals and the schematic left by the senior Telecom engineer were read, the DXC30 was set up and linked to a Cisco router. The usual link test was carried out (24 hours packet loss test) and the link was operational two days after arrival. However it was Saturday and the only site available was the upstream ISP site (cf IP addresses).

The installation of local phone lines was easy because the equipment is located in the exchange building: no cables to lay down. However, the lines were supposed to work with a pilot number and we had to await the return of an engineer to program the telecom exchange correctly.

As you have read previously, the setting of the domain name for the Tuvalu ISP was the biggest burden. From this experience it was recommended that the Compaq server be used as secondary DNS for the TV domain. This should allow the government of Tuvalu to monitor the number of domains registered from inside the country. Also this configuration offers the possibility of having an independent database of domain names to reconstruct a new DNS service if things go wrong.

The pricing was more elaborate to set up as a lot of politics were involved. The government of Tuvalu indicated early that it is ready to subsidize Internet services if prices are too high for the people. The link to New Zealand is roughly estimated at USD5,000 a month. A clear figure was not available as the Telco wanted to show a big bill to convince the government to subsidize the Internet and therefore help to pay the usual telecommunication debt of the government.

A pricing was decided that will encourage people to prepay and not use working hours. To limit costs a threshold of AUD200 per month was set where timing is not important. This high-cost option was interesting for many users after they received their first bill. Regulus proved itself invaluable in its ability to record each and every connection. It was a big help when users were contesting the time spent on the net and their huge bill.

After three months of operations the following graph shows that the 64kbps link is far from being used to full capacity. This graph was taken in the last week of January 2000.


Tuvalu now has about 100 users connected to the Internet and is discovering the vast capabilities of this resource. Users are showing interest in web design and other technologies. For the ISP the web of the ISP needs to be augmented with a list of e-mail address and also available web pages. A kind of portal could be a major attraction to users.