Resurrection week in Majuro

A look at the refurbished interior of the ECC gym in Delap, with the sports floor in place as well as Olympic standard backboards. Photo: Eve Burns.
A look at the refurbished interior of the ECC gym in Delap, with the sports floor in place as well as Olympic standard backboards. Photo: Eve Burns.

GIFF JOHNSON

We don’t use the word “resurrection” lightly. But in the non-religious sphere of the Marshall Islands, we believe it is fitting to use that term for two events that took place largely out of the view of most local residents in Majuro.

Twelve-and-a-half-years after the roof collapse halted use of the ECC national gymnasium in Delap, a blessing and soft opening was held Monday afternoon this week in order to pave the way for local basketball teams prepping for the Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands that start November 20 and the Micronesian Games in Majuro in June 2024.

Although the ECC is still months from completion for it to be a public facility, a new sports floor has been installed and two new Olympic standard glass backboards, with breakaway rims, are in place at the ECC.

The blessing Monday was offered by Rev. Kemot Bam, of the Bukot Nan Jesus Church. He was joined by National Olympic Committee President and Majuro Nitijela Member Tony Muller, landowner Iroojedrik Rebecca Jello, other Majuro Nitijela members, and a small group of coaches and athletes.

Monday’s soft opening is a glimmer of hope to the local sports community that has been without an enclosed gym with international standard playing dimensions since 2011. The demise of the ECC over 12 years ago hurt local tournaments, school leagues and international competitiveness due to the lack of adequate practice facilities for multiple Micronesian Games and regional competitions.

The second resurrection occurred Tuesday with the signing of the RMI government’s guaranty of an over $26 million grant from the US Rural Utility Service to the Marshall Islands National Telecommunications Authority.

NTA has been pushed to the brink of dissolution as the national telecom by a well-resourced World Bank consultant push to gain competition in the telecom market. While the tens of millions of dollars poured by the World Bank into its Digital RMI project was to some degree overtaken by the no-cost one-word amendment to NTA legislation sponsored by Kwajalein Nitijela Member David Paul two years ago, eliminating NTA’s monopoly status, the World Bank project has left an uncertain future for the telecom sector.

Part of NTA’s challenge has been its lack of funds to upgrade systems, resulting in poor quality internet and phone service, and increasing calls from business and the public for reform.

The RUS grant — which requires the RMI put up a 25 percent match for the funding — quite literally resurrects opportunities for NTA to be competitive in the 21st century digital market.

“For perspective,” said NTA General Manager Tommy Kijiner, Jr. Wednesday this week, “NTA has expended between $1 million and $1.8 million a year on capital improvements. Having a grant of $25 million is like having 17 years (of funding) in one-go. This will allow NTA to complete rolling out fiber to homeland upgrading the Majuro-Ebeye-Guam portion of the fiber cable that will be congested by 2024.”

Kijiner said that with the funds to upgrade land-based systems and equipment associated with the submarine cable to Guam, NTA can ramp up the capacity of the cable from its 10 gigabytes to 100. “We’ll be able to give customers 100MB up and down,” he said, in reference to the speed of uploads and downloads on the internet. The poor quality copper phone lines coupled with increasing congestion on the submarine cable are prevent expanding bandwidth for home use in Majuro and Ebeye.

In their different circles of influence, both the partial opening of the ECC gym and the $25 million now available to NTA to improve services suggest a resurrection of sorts this week in the Marshall Islands.

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