Creating a Digital Economy Part 1

Michael McDonald, December 10, 2020

The Dept. of Commerce and the AS Territorial Broadband Strategy Work Group recently hosted a 3rd Talanoaga Fa’atekolonosi, or Tala-Tek, with this 3rd forum focused on Creating a Digital Economy.  The first 2 forums were on Cyber Security and Telehealth, both very important topics especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  When the coronavirus hit early in 2020, communities across the globe went into lockdown in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ and stop the spread of the virus.  Here at home, in American Samoa, all school campuses were closed, government offices pulled back to shorter work weeks, and businesses had to shorten their hours all in an effort to prepare for the arrival of the virus.  When this occurred, here and abroad, internet usage spiked as communities transitioned to work-from-home arrangements (remote working), schools pivoted to distance learning, and families stayed indoors (what do you do when you are stuck at home? Right, internet!) As reported by the World Health Organization in April of this year, there has been a fivefold increase in cyber-attacks since the arrival of COVID-19.  Higher internet usage = higher cyber security risks. Telehealth immediately jumped from a sluggish, back burner “project” to the newest game in town, with communities everywhere leveraging broadband to improve the delivery and quality of healthcare to their citizens.  These two areas, cyber security and telehealth, register with most people as pretty straight forward and easy-to-grasp telecom priority areas especially in light of COVID-19.  But as we prepared for the 3rd Tala-Tek on Digital Economy, we began to realize just how abstract the subject matter can be, especially when it comes to application of tasks and strategies to help American Samoa build said Digital Economy.

By definition, a Digital Economy is the economic activity that results from billions of online connections between people, businesses, devices, data, and processes. It is this ‘economic activity’ that is of most interest to us.  What is it? How do you define it?  How do you create it? How do you gain access to it? How do you make it grow?  How do we benefit from it? The questions are endless.  However, before we can readily partake in this digital economy, either as a small-timer, major contributor, or an average joe, there are key pre-requisites that MUST be in place before it’s game on. 

One of our two Tala-Tek keynote speakers was Sudhir Ispahani. Mr. Ispahani has been in the broadband game since the early 1980’s and has deployed broadband in communities around the world.  Key to Sudhir’s tala-tek talk was what he referred to as the key tenants and foundational elements that are essential to create a digital economy.  To hear his talk and to find more information on Sudhir, visit

According to Sudhir, there are 5 foundational elements required to enable a digital economy – 1) being able to connect to the rest of the world via the internet (fast and reliable); 2) these connection are extended all the way to the home or premises via a physical connection; 3) there is a modern wireless infrastructure in place; 4) develop coherent set of digital data centers that are hyper scalable; and 5) ensure cybersecurity measures are in place.  For those of you paying close attention, check boxes for #1, #2, and #3 are already done.  Item #4 has had a great deal of attention paid to it, especially during the recent local campaign season.  Creating data centers in American Samoa was central to economic development plans for at least one gubernatorial team, and definitely on the table for the others.  There are ongoing discussions in this area, which is great, as to whether data centers are a good idea, a bad idea, or a viable idea especially due to the very high capital expenditures of standing up data centers and the extremely high operating costs of running one.  When you take these costs into account and also consider cloud services are being offered at very low rates already from a large variety of providers, and they are readily available to any organization in American Samoa, perhaps a blended approach will win out in the end.  But getting back to checking our boxes, if we use pre-existing data centers and cloud services to support our efforts to create a digital economy, we can check off box #4.  That leaves us with #5 – cyber security.    So we are right back where we began – cyber security!

Our first Tala-Tek forum took place back in June and it centered on cyber security as it was by far the most important issue discussed by the Territorial Broadband Strategy Workgroup at that point.  For those of you who have not yet heard of the Territorial Broadband Strategy initiative, in short, it is an ongoing initiative where by local subject matter experts are gathering weekly (since June!) to develop a strategy as to how American Samoa can best use the new Hawaiki submarine cable to improve life in American Samoa.  These experts are our best and brightest local stakeholders who have jobs, duties, responsibilities, businesses, projects or a shared interest in all things relating to the internet.  To catch up on the work being done by the workgroup, again feel free to visit  It was cyber security that the workgroup identified as the top priority if we are to truly realize an acceptable return on investment into the Hawaiki submarine cable. And it is cyber security again, here with our tala-tek talk with Mr. Sudhir Ispahani, that is now again at the center of this broadband discussion.

So clearly, we must take action and address the cyber security vulnerabilities that exist in American Samoa before we can build a resilient digital economy or any other internet-based industry for that matter.  Vulnerabilities exist at the territorial, organizational, and individual levels and in order to best address the risks posed by our porous cyber security position, we must 1) commit to addressing the issue; 2) prioritize the issue; and 3) allocate appropriate resources to the issue.  It is also extremely important at this stage to engage a tried and true industry expert who understands or can relate to the uniqueness that is American Samoa, our culture, and our customs.  Someone perhaps like Mr. Michael Baukes, who was the second guest speaker at our 3rd talanoaga fa’atekolonosi.  Mr. Baukes is Samoan and co-owns UpGuard (, a global cyber security firm with clients like AT&T, ANZ, and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).  Mr. Baukes has travelled to the Samoan archipelago multiple times as he still has roots and family in Samoa.  Mr. Buakes, or someone with his unique credentials, could be a tremendous asset towards our efforts to lay a solid foundation for the development of a digital economy.

As our second speaker, Mr. Baukes could have spoken about cyber security at our talanoaga fa’atekonolosi, but instead he decided to touch on other key elements that he feels American Samoa should prioritize in order to build a digital economy.  Mr. Ispahani had laid out a very clear picture of the basic tenants of developing a digital economy, and as such Mike delved into what he feels we need to address if we are to truly play on the larger stage that Hawaiki now presents.  He pointed to three key areas: 1) Education; 2) Improved Financial Transactions/Banking; and 3) Access to services that now enable significant improvements in government.  Mr. Baukes’ comments on digital banking and improved government services provides a great deal of insight and I suggest you go to and the TBS  you tube channel to listen in, however his comments regarding education caught my immediate attention.  Now Mike was not referring to education in the general or traditional sense, meaning that we now have access to educational resources via the internet and we should use them. That’s obvious.  What he is pointing to is that if we are to build this digital economy, and frankly have any kind of hope of building industry and improving the quality of life here in American Samoa by leveraging Hawaiki, then we must zero in on 1) Digital First Education and 2) Mobile First Training and these two principles must permeate our education system as well as our collective consciousness.  One of the most profound impacts we are seeing as a result of COVID-19 is the need to fast-track a digital transformation of our education system.  The global pandemic forced many educational institutions to quickly become ‘digital’ and lessons were delivered via Zoom and other video streaming applications.  However, many quickly realized that this approach on its own was simply ineffective.  It lacked the necessary interaction and feedback loops that are required to have an effective learning experience.  As such, this pivot to an online delivery is insufficient.  So it follows that maybe a blended approach is the answer.  I think yes, to a certain degree, but we must go even a step further and realize that even before we look to a blended delivery of classroom learning, we need to understand what digital first education means and what mobile first training means, and then move to this blended approach or something similar to achieve the most effective educational experience.

Simply put, digital first education requires that we understand and grasp that an on-line learning experience is capable of much more than what we’ve experienced during covid, that being that the zoom classroom format is a very boring, teacher-centric approach and is ‘sub-optimal’.  With the tools and technology we have at our disposal, we need to think ‘digital first’ in our approach. The online learning environment provides many advantages that don’t exist in the traditional classroom setting. Distance learning is the most obvious, but we also have self-paced learning; we can also review lessons instantly simply by rewinding if information is missed or not quite understood; real-time exercises or quizzes can be integrated right into the curriculum; discussion groups and group chat are available; the use and effectiveness of video is unlimited. I am currently taking (and leading a group through) a Google IT Professional Support course myself via Coursera ( and they integrate many of these features into their courses.  With augmented reality and virtual reality on the rise, we will have even more tools at our disposal to enhance the learning experience.

And mobile first training means, well it means just that.  We live in a mobile experience now and we can learn from anywhere and at any time.  So we need to ask ourselves if we are capitalizing on this opportunity in ways that we perhaps have not thought of yet?

There are tremendous opportunities that are only now being realized across the country or the world for that matter and we are fortunate enough here in American Samoa to have the resources to be at the forefront of this transformative movement in education, IF and only if we see it, own it, and capitalize on it.  So I say let’s take a real close look at what we are doing in education, what are we thinking about in education, and most importantly what are we prepared to do to truly make a difference. 

So #1 Cyber Security;  #2 Education.  Go.

Read more about Mr. Sudhir Ispahani and Mr. Mike Baukes.


TALATEK: Creating a Digital Economy

Sudhir Ispahani, Founder and CEO, Alpha Global Partners

Sudhir Ispahani has led a distinguished career driving transformative technology advancements, while being an active global voice in the pioneering evolution of telecommunications and broadband developments around the globe. He has guided technology divisions of international and Fortune 100 companies. Currently, Sudhir is focused on investing back into the industries and causes that will make a difference for next-generation leaders. 

A highly sought-after strategist, investor, advisor and board member for companies focused on the next wave of disruptive technology innovation, Sudhir invests a significant amount of his time mentoring, advising and serving as a life coach to global leaders. He gives back by developing young executives who are revolutionizing communication technology.

Relying on his executive-level experience building some of the most complex communication networks in the world, Sudhir advises companies and C-suite leaders while investing in the future of innovative, revolutionary technologies.

As the founding Chief Technology Officer and Chairman of the Technology board, Sudhir successfully helped propel the early innovation and thought leadership position of Chello Broadband, United Global Communications, United Pan European Communications, Liberty Global and as a C suite executive at MCI Telecommunications. These accomplishments aided in his ability to lead the extension of telecommunications and broadband technology to 18 countries across three continents. This global experience bolsters his understanding of the technological, financial and operational strategies that transform startups into leading industry powerhouses.

Sudhir is also the founder of Master’s Peace Foundation, a U.S.-based charity with programs that support the under-privileged around the globe. This foundation reflects Sudhir’s thoughtful and compassionate approach to business and life.

Recently, Sudhir has turned his energy toward writing and media projects, including authoring several soon-to-be-released books and his already launched podcast “Cracking the Code with Sudhir Ispahani.”

Sudhir stays active as the Founder and CEO of Alpha Global Partners, advising global technology and corporate leaders in the board room and the C suite. He is also an active investor in emerging and next-generation technology startups in Silicon Valley and around the world. His life motto is “It is better to give than it is to receive.”

Mike Baukes, coFounder and coCEO, UpGuard

Mike is the Co-founder and Co-CEO of UpGuard, a global cybersecurity company headquartered in Hobart, Australia. Prior to founding UpGuard in 2012, Mike worked in senior technology and M&A roles for financial institutions such as ANZ, Lloyds Banking Group, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, leading teams in technology and strategy. UpGuard protects hundreds of organizations, including NASA, the New York Stock Exchange, Accenture and HP. With an unrivalled track record, UpGuard is also renowned for discovering and securing a multitude of data breaches implicating institutions such as Facebook, Amazon, the Republican National Committee and Aggregate IQ. Mike is Samoan and currently lives in Tazmania.

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Talanoaga Fa’aTekonolosi (TALA-TEK) is a monthly webinar series of pertinent topics on the use of broadband and technology applications in American Samoa. TALA-TEK feature speakers and experts at the local and community, national and global levels. Topics include but are not limited to: cybersecurity, telehealth, distance education, eCommerce, trades and technologies and many more.

Follow us on our Facebook @amsamoatbs and our YouTube Channel as we continue on this journey.


Telehealth Transforming Healthcare in American Samoa

Telehealth has become the fastest growing segment of delivery of healthcare due to COVID-19 and as patients and providers have recognized its far-reaching ability to provide the solutions necessary to significantly bend the cost curve while materially improving quality of life. Telehealth services also include non-clinical telehealth services, such as: Provider training; Administrative meetings; Continuing medical education; Patient education and Public health and health administration.

There are many opportunities for improving health care access in American Samoa where there is a shortage of health care providers. Telehealth provides an opportunity to access specialists and services otherwise not available on island. It also provides much value in cost savings and improved quality of care for follow-up visits.  Potential use of telehealth are endless.  Teleaudiology, speech therapy, maternal child, telepathology, teledendistry, telestroke, to name a few.

A few existing Telehealth Programs in American Samoa:

  • Ongoing Shriners Telehealth Consultations and Referrals: Orthopedic cases, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Recreational Therapy
  • Pacific Emergency Medical Services for Children: Support for children referral from Pacific Islands to Hawaii (Kapiolani and Shriners).
  • Continuing Medical Education: Ongoing CMEs are being conducted between all DOH clinics including Manu’a Islands. 
  • Regional and national telehealth webinars and educational sessions: American Samoa is a active participant of various regional and national telehealth education groups including those on gastroenterology, geriatrics, asthma, COVID-19 and many more.
  • Telepharmacy with DOH clinics:  Pharmacist can receive medication orders via telephone, text and secured messaging.
  • DOH Services offered via telehealth with off-island specialists: OT, Speech Therapy, Behavioral
  • VA CBOC currently offers and conducts telehealth services for onisland veterans.
  • Teleneurology Network with Queens Medical Hospital: Currently being established between LBJ and Queens Medical Center where a specialist at Queens Medical can consult with doctor at LBJ about stroke cases and other general neurology cases. 

Although the potential value of telehealth is clear in terms of improved access, quality of care, lowered cost, and increased patient satisfaction; telehealth utilization is low.  Key barriers and challenges include: referral process and care coordination; workflow integration; reimbursement, liability, credentialing/licensure, change management, need for new payment structure, and business models. 

  • Referral Process and Care Coordination:  Implement a process for care coordination pre- and post- referral using telehealth. This requires the identification of off-island specialists for pre-care to determine referral and post-referral for ongoing care coordination.
  • Health Information Exchange: Referral also includes the secure exchange of patient information. HIE requires connection into other systems to secure share patient health information required for the care coordination.       
  • Establish a Telehealth Work Group championed by physicians and other healthcare providers to lead territorial coordination for telehealth.  The group can also provide guidance on workflow integration future services. 
  • Reimbursement of Service:  Not all telehealth services are reimbursed. Policies and practices for telehealth reimbursement by Medicare, Medicaid, and private payers are not clear. Providers often do not know if they will get reimbursed for a service because they do not know if the service is covered and or if the service is provided under eligible conditions for payment (e.g., eligible for reimbursement if the patient is in a rural health professional shortage area (HPSA) or not classified as metropolitan statistical area (MSA)).  Further, it is not clear how much a provider will be reimbursed and the reimbursement amount in many cases, specifically from Medicare and Medicaid, is considered very low and often requires subsidization from the health care provider. Generally, this is only feasible and sustainable by government agencies or grant-funded programs.
  • Regulations and Policies: There are currently 25 states and territories with telehealth parity laws for insurance coverage.  These laws indicate that in-person and telehealth service are reimbursed at the same rate. 
  • Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement:  Since COVID-19, the federal government has expanded funding for telehealth under Medicare and Medicaid.  This needs to be studied and understood on how it would apply to American Samoa.
  • Health Professional Licensure:  An added burden for providers in practicing telehealth across borders, is the need for medical licenses and the processes to obtain licensure in different states.  American Samoa currently does not require local licensure for telehealth.   However, to protect the integrity of and maintaining acceptable standards and protocols licensure and medical certification need to be confirmed. 

Cybersecurity in American Samoa

The first TALA-TEK on Cybersecurity and Data Protection in American Samoa featured speakers were Ms. Grace Tulafono-Asi, IT Manager, Department of Treasury; Mr. Randall Fitisone, Emergency Communications Coordinator, Department of Homeland Security; and Mr. Charles “Chuck” Lerch, CEO HiTech Hui in Honolulu, HI.

TALA-TEK ON Cybersecurity and Data Protection AGENDA

Cybercrimes are the fastest growing crimes in the US, and they are continuing to increase in size, sophistication, and costs.  Everything from stolen money, theft of personal and financial data, loss of productivity and the damage and destruction of critical corporate or individual data is categorized as cybercrime.  The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has triggered the biggest cybersecurity concerns and threats in over a period of months, a 600% increase in a matter of months (Steven Inch of HP).  As billions of users flock to the internet daily as the “new norm”, we are also witnessing an evolution in cybercrimes with population increase.  Cybercrimes and threats such as phishing email schemes to malicious actors posting as CDC, healthcare organization, insurance, or WHO representatives have been aggressive, and the biggest reason for the increase in attacks is because of the number of people working from home or remotely. 

American Samoa remains the only coronavirus-free place in the US.  We do owe the enjoyment of our coronavirus-free status to appropriate protection and security measure implemented to protect our physical borders. We should do the same with cybersecurity and not let our guard down by taking the certain steps to help protect American Samoa against cybercrimes. 

  • Tighten your personal securities with Strong passwords and Two-factor authentication

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to create passwords with various characters, numbers, and letters.  Do not use common information that are easily found such as names of children, pets, use of birthdates.  Be sure to change this frequently.  Where possible, use two-factor authentication.  This provides an extra layer of security when you log into your online accounts.

  • Keep your software and operating systems updated

When there are security updates to be downloaded and installed, install and update! In addition, install virus protection programs to scan your computer for viruses and malware.

  • If it looks suspicious, do not click on it.

If it is too good to be true, it probably is.  In a typical phishing scheme, people receive an email purportedly from their email service provider or a financial service provider, such as a bank or credit card company, or even a government agency telling them that there is a problem with his or her account.  Many people click on the first sight of these emails.  These are attempts for you to give up your personal information such as name, address, date of birth, email username and password, bank account number, PIN number or Social Security number.

Here are some tips to protect yourself:   

  • No legitimate company will ever send you an unsolicited email asking for your personal information.
  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization mentioned in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company’s correct web address yourself.
  • Contact your email service provider or financial service provider directly using the customer service number on your account statement or the number given on the provider’s website to verify that the information in the original email was, or was not, legitimate.
  • Do not give sensitive information in response to an unsolicited request for it.
  • Immediately delete all suspicious emails, and never open email attachments or click on links from unknown sources.
  • Use antivirus and antispyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them regularly.
  • Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge.


KokoBytes, a platform to share stories

KokoBytes, where we keep your cup of koko Samoa full and rich with innovation and creativity from American Samoa’s tech community.

The purpose of program is to raise awareness of “broadband economy” and to tell our stories, our way through conversations about potential developments and opportunities for American Samoa with access to tremendous bandwidth via Hawa’iki.

We have been fortunate to interview:

Follow us on our Facebook @amsamoatbs and our YouTube Channel as we continue on this journey.


TALA-TEK: A web series on the use of broadband in American Samoa

Talanoaga Fa’aTekonolosi (TALA-TEK) is a monthly webinar series of pertinent topics on the use of broadband and technology applications in American Samoa. TALA-TEK feature speakers and experts at the local and community, national and global levels. Topics include but are not limited to: cybersecurity, telehealth, distance education, eCommerce, trades and technologies and many more.

Follow us on our Facebook @amsamoatbs and our YouTube Channel as we continue on this journey.