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Battle for the Pacific

Phone provider pushes into content market

LESS than a decade after entering the Pacific market, Digicel is poised to become the biggest player in the region.
 
Founded in the Caribbean in 2001, Digicel set up operations in Samoa in 2006 before moving into Papua New Guinea a year later. Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and Nauru followed in quick succession with experimental licensing and operations in French Polynesia.
 
Last year the company announced its intention to buy the Sky Pacific service off Fiji Television Limited, a move which forced Fiji’s government to amend broadcasting laws.
 
Introducing the legislation in Parliament, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the new law removed restrictions on foreign companies to operate pay television services. It also removed cross ownership restrictions for pay TV services.
 
This step by the Fiji government was three-pronged – to end the commercial viability of one of its greatest critics, to make the state-owned broadcaster profitable
and to gain control over national television.
 
At the time the Fiji government could not have known that its plan to force Fiji TV to sell its lucrative Papua New Guinea entity Media Niugini Limited was heading
for disaster. PNG Telecom canned the deal at the last minute after finding out that it would have to pay an extra $FJD5million for rights to broadcast the National Rugby League.
 
Fiji TV Board Chairman Nouzab Fareed had failed to point out that the NRL sales were not part of the agreement.
 
But why Fiji TV would sell MNL was the biggest question. From its purchase in 2005 by then Fiji TV Chief Executive Officer Ken Clark until 2014, MNL raked
in $FJD114million and carried its parent company through the lean years from 2006-2014. Without it, Fiji TV could very well have collapsed some seven years ago.
 
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