Marshall Islands Correspondent


MAJURO, Marshall Islands — The briefest amendment in the history of the Marshall Islands Nitijela (Parliament) could have an outsized impact on the nation. It is a one-word proposed amendment to the National Telecommunications Act that was introduced the second week of March by Member of Parliament David Paul.

The one-word change proposed by Bill 66 for the NTA Act is to delete the word “exclusive” from the law that has granted NTA monopoly status to run telecommunications in the Marshall Islands since its start in the late 1980s.

The law currently gives NTA “exclusive right” to manage and operate domestic and international telecommunications services in the country. The amendment, if passed before the Nitijela recesses in April, would make it possible for other companies to engage in the Marshall Islands telecommunications market.

Paul’s introduction of Bill 66 followed a public hearing into Resolution 57 that calls on the Marshall Islands government to push forward with World Bank-supported reforms in telecommunications, including opening the sector competition. The World Bank has for years encouraged telecommunications reform and last year endorsed a $30 million-plus plan to fund it.

Coincidentally and adding fuel to the telecom reform push, the Marshall Islands experienced a 10-day period of intermittent internet service that started just hours after a long parliament public hearing into telecom reform.

Within 24 hours of the initial disruptions in home, business and government internet connections and mobile 4G systems, the National Telecommunications Authority began issuing what would become a series of text messages alerting customers to the problem. First it was “intermittent connections,” which became “intermittent disruptions” in internet service.

After a couple of days of the ongoing outage, it became apparent that NTA systems were shutting down as the result of a large-scale “distributed denial of service” attack, NTA CEO Tommy Kijiner Jr. said March 23.

A DDoS attack is normally engineered by hackers who infect thousands — sometimes millions — of computers with malware that responds to command computers, receiving orders as part of what is known as a “botnet.” The intent of a DDoS cyber attack is to prevent legitimate internet traffic by flooding the targeted machine or system with an overwhelming volume of requests that overload systems.

NTA services were disrupted on and off in a 10-day period by the DDoS attack. But Kijiner said NTA technicians believe they have fixed the system and “there was no new sign that anything has jumped our firewall.” mbj