Shane Reti 'very pleased' as Elon Musk answers his plea to help restore Tonga's telecommunications

Dr Shane Reti says he's "very pleased" that Elon Musk is providing a satellite to Tonga after the country's telecommunication system was damaged in last month's volcanic eruption. 

The National Party MP sent an impassioned plea to the world's richest man in January asking him to help get Tonga back online. 

Tonga's communication was largely cut off from the rest of the world after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted on January 15. The eruption caused widespread damage and also produced a 1.2-metre tsunami which flooded the capital Nuku'alofa. 

An underwater telecommunication cable was damaged in the natural disaster, leaving the island cut off for days. 

Now, engineers for SpaceX, which Musk also owns, are currently in Fiji to help restore Tonga's internet. Fiji's Minister for Communications, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, told local outlet FBC News that the SpaceX team will establish and operate a temporary ground station for six months while the work is done. 

"The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation [SpaceX] had applied for a temporary emergency telecommunications license on January 20, the sole purpose of this license is to provide an internet gateway," Sayed-Khaiyum told FBC News.

"Space X and FINTEL are currently, however, in commercial negotiations to co-locate the earth station and connect to Fiji's internet gateway."

Dr Reti shared his success in getting Musk to give Tonga internet access on social media.

"If you don't ask, you don't know. Very pleased for the Pacific," he said on Facebook, also sharing a link to FBC's article.

When Dr Reti first heard that Tonga's internet had been cut off following the eruption, he penned a request to Musk who owns Starlink, a global provider of high-speed broadband internet. Starlink uses around 1700 satellites that can deliver internet access to remote locations as they orbit Earth. 

"I guess Elon Musk can only say no and if you don't ask you don't know," Reti wrote in a Twitter post.

"After the Minister told me in a phone call on Monday that the telecommunications cable to Tonga was down I immediately sent a letter to Elon to see if he would contribute Starlink to the emergency."

The letter asked Musk, who is currently worth just under $400 billion, if he could see his way to providing "urgent Starlink communications to public officials and the good people of Tonga in this moment of need".

In a reply to a tweet by Whole Mars, who posted Reti's letter, Musk said that would be "a hard thing for us to do right now".

"We don't have enough satellites with laser links and there are already geo sats that serve the Tonga region. That is why I'm asking for clear confirmation."

Earlier, Musk had responded to a tweet by news agency Reuters, which posted that Tonga was likely to spend a month without an internet cable. 

Musk replied: "Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?"

This prompted Reti to tweet: "This would be a good thing for Tonga. Can the community reply then please to @elonmusk." 

Reti told Newshub at the time that he hadn't heard back from Musk but added: "Like I said, if you don't ask you don’t know and he can only say no."