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Local communication CEOs say dropped calls due to 3rd-party off-island vendors

Chuck Leota and Justin Tuiasosopo

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — To address the communications problems with dropped calls occurring between the two cellular communication companies servicing American Samoa, Bluesky and the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) were summoned to testify on Tuesday, April 4, 2023 before the House Communications Committee.

Present to testify were the Chief Executive Officers of both ASTCA and Bluesky, Chuck Leota and Justin Tuiasosopo, respectively.

Dropped calls and texting between the two carriers were two of the main issues addressed in yesterday’s House hearing. The other issue was the text alert system both carriers are currently using.


Communications Committee Chair Faipule Luaitaua Gene Pan started the hearing, asking if either man could answer if there is a “reason why Bluesky customers and ASTCA customers are unable to text each other; and if there is a solution to this?

“Is it a legal or technical matter?”

ASTCA’s CEO responded that “BlueSky customers and ASTCA customer’s are able to text each other and vice versa, but sometimes there are problems where texting is unable to go through between both cellular companies due to a 3rd party communications vendor.

“What this means is, when text messages go through to this 3rd party vendor, based in the mainland U.S., and when the third party vendor is unable to perform well, neither carrier is able to receive texts from each other, and vice versa.”

Bluesky’s CEO confirmed Leota’s statement, adding, “At this time, Bluesky and ASTCA customers are able to text each other, but there are instances where the third party connection is severed and text messages are unable to go through or they do come through but in a different language, as Chuck has mentioned.

“We are collectively working together to remove this third party vendor to allow for direct communication between the two cellular companies.

“In the past year we began technical work to connect both companies to allow for better quality of voice calls, data calls and SMS messages, or text messages.

“We have completed the work on bettering voice calls and data calls, and currently our technical team is still working on improving the quality and delivering of text messages directly, to eliminate costs in paying for the third party vendor and so ASTCA and Bluesky customers can have direct communication with each other instead of relying on a third party vendor.”


Faipule Larry S. Sanitoa also expressed concerns about text alerts from both cellular carriers to notify the people of American Samoa in times of emergencies and natural disasters, aside from the emergency alert siren systems that’s in place.

“Since the United States has all these social media platforms that notify people during a natural disaster or emergency, American Samoa’s cellular carriers should also be capable of sending out similar alerts,” said.

Pan doubled down on Sanitoa’s concerns and asked both CEOs if they were aware of reverse 911.

“When there is an emergency, the 911 will press that button and every phone will receive an emergency notification, regardless of phones having a physical SIM or an e-SIM, any phone will receive that emergency alert text, have we looked into something like that?”

ASTCA CEO Leota explained, “The system that ASTCA and Bluesky have been using in the past years — when we receive a notification from Homeland Security and any other department of the government involved in natural disasters and emergency departments — the work involved in doing so is a manual process.

“First off, the message that we receive from Homeland Security has to be broken down to a 150 characters because that is the limit of words allowed in text messages, and most times we cannot deliver the message from Homeland Security because of the character limit in SMS texting; we then input it to the platform we are using, we then send it out, and another problem we encountered was having to wait.

“If we’re sending out alert texts to 10,000 phone numbers, ASTCA or Bluesky, it would take a long time for the texts to be sent out, and the phone numbers at the top of the list would receive it instantly, while phone numbers at the bottom of that list would receive it in 10 minutes.”

Leota also stated that, “In the past year, a proposal was made to acquire WEA, Wireless Emergency Alert system, which FEMA uses to send out alerts when natural disasters occur.

“When WEA is activated, an alert is sent out immediately to FEMA, Homeland Security and the weather station therefore eliminating the manual process that is time consuming.

“Like an Amber alert, everyone would automatically and instantly receive an alert text notifying them of any natural occurring emergencies and disasters.”

ASTCA CEO Tuiasosopo confirmed that Bluesky also uses the same manual system that ASTCA has and they also have the same process. In the past, Tuiasosopo said that when they received a message from Homeland Security to notify people of emergencies occurring within the area, they used what he calls a “blast SMS”, where all Bluesky subscribers receive a text alert simultaneously.

But now, according to Tuiasosopo, they are using a new system called “flash SMS”, which essentially means that subscribers will not receive a text message, but that phone will be overtaken by this alert and a message will appear on the front screen notifying subscribers of an emergency occurring within their vicinity.

“This alert system has proven to be much more efficient for them rather than the “blast SMS” they have been utilizing in the past years.

“But the WEA system, that ASTCA has acquired, is a superior system that eliminates all the manual process and manual labor that goes into it, like the reverse 911, and whoever activates the alert system on island, will trigger the WEA and in turn send out notifications to radio, TV, and phones.”

Tuiasosopo added that they have “started work on bringing down the equipment necessary to be able to move away from the manual system, and make this a wireless, automated system” and soon “the WEA system installation should be complete.”