SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank are seriously considering a project that will help the Pacific Island nation of Tonga gain high-speed internet access for its population of 100,000 people through an underwater fiber optic cable.

The move was announced ahead of a meeting between ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda and Tongan Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano in Sydney, Australia on Wednesday. World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick met with Lord Tu'ivakano today.

"The underwater fiber optic cable will connect Tonga up to the Southern Cross Cable, the main trans-Pacific link between Australia and the United States," said Mr. Kuroda. "This critical link will connect Tonga firmly with the rest of the world, generating huge economic opportunities from early 2013 when the cable should be in place and marking a key step in Tonga's international connectivity."

"Access to high-speed internet links will vastly improve opportunities for the people of Tonga to connect to the world, provide information needed by business to expand jobs, and allow people to more easily and cheaply keep in contact with families overseas," Mr. Zoellick said. "It will also make it easier for Tongans living abroad to remit money home - critically important as remittances comprise about a third of GDP."

The high-speed internet connection to Tonga will build on the successful telecommunications reform over the past five years in the country, which has resulted in a six-fold increase in mobile phone coverage in the same period.

"I am pleased that the World Bank Group and ADB are significantly boosting support for Tonga, and across the Pacific islands more generally," said Lord Tu'ivakano.

As well as the broadband cable, ADB and the World Bank will support improved transport links, increased renewable energy generation, urban infrastructure, climate change adaptation, and government reform efforts in Tonga.

"While the island states of the Pacific face considerable challenges because of their vulnerability to global economic shocks and climate change, we in Tonga are committed to strengthening education for our children and services for the neediest, and undertaking necessary reform to improve transparency and create jobs," said Lord Tu'ivakano.

Out of the total $34 million cost of the broadband cable, ADB expects to provide $9.7 million, the World Bank anticipates providing $17.2 million, pending consideration by their Boards of Directors, and the Government of Tonga will commit the remaining funds. The project will go before ADB's Board of Directors for consideration on August 23, 2011 and to the World Bank's Board of Executive Directors on August 30, 2011. The funds from both ADB and the World Bank will be on 100% grant terms.