Ambassadors from 35 countries get first hand look at San Diego’s technology, defense and border security

Keven Lippert, Viasat chief commercial officer addresses some of the more than 30 ambassadors from around the world who watched a telemedicine demonstration during a visit to the Viasat Carlsbad offices on Tuesday.
Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune

State Department’s Experience America program brings foreign dignitaries the region to foster dialogue, economic ties


JUNE 19, 2019 6 AM

For Arjun Kumar Karki, Nepal’s ambassador to the U.S., the highlight of this week’s Experience America trip to San Diego was learning more about the region’s technology innovation.

For Mathilde Mukantabana, ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda, it was a first-hand look at how the U.S. Customs and Border Protection tackles the highly politicized immigration challenge.

And for Floreta Faber, ambassador for the Republic of Albania, it was gaining a better understanding of how California taps university research and the startup ecosystem to propel its economy.

The three dignitaries were among 35 ambassadors from countries spanning four continents who visited San Diego this week as part of the U.S. State Department Experience America program.

Launched roughly a decade ago, Experience America gives foreign ambassadors a chance to see the United States beyond Washington D.C. and New York, where most embassies are located. It aims to connect ambassadors with academic, business, community and cultural leaders across the country to forge relationships and economic ties.

“We all know that if you want to understand America, you need to get outside of D.C., outside of the belt,” said Faber, the Albanian ambassador.

The State Department organizes trips to two or three cities each year. This week was Experience America’s first time in San Diego.

Ambassadors toured Scripps Research Institute, UC San Diego and the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. They also met with regional business leaders and visited satellite Internet provider Viasat’s Carlsbad campus.

“Even though I have been to San Diego before, these trips give me slices of different things,” said Ashok Kumar, Singapore’s ambassador. “We went on the USS Theodore Roosevelt today. They would not have taken an individual ambassador on that aircraft carrier. When 35 ambassadors come through, the admiral shows up. He explains the functioning of the whole fleet. So by coming out as a group we get to see a much broader spectrum of things.”

While ambassadors from a handful of more developed countries such as Austria, Hungary and Croatia were on the tour, many of the ambassadors came from countries that have emerging economies. They range from Uganda to Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic to Uzbekistan, Senegal to Belarus.

Some of these countries are looking to provide broadband Internet to more of their citizens by jumping immediately to cellular or satellite wireless technologies instead of land lines.

That is what landed Viasat as a tour destination. It has a fleet of four broadband satellites in orbit today that are delivering 100 megabits per second to communities with limited Internet access in North and South America.

The company’s satellites also power in-flight Wi-Fi to American Airlines, Jet Blue, United Airlines and other commercial aircraft.

Over the past two years, the Carlsbad company has rolled out Community Wi-Fi through an Internet hotspot now available in 2,500 small towns with poor Internet service in Mexico.

Viasat sells an hour of broadband Internet connectivity for as little as 50 cents. The company plans to launch three additional broadband satellites starting in 2021 to gain global coverage and vastly increase capacity that will enable even faster speeds at prices of “pennies” per hour, said Keven Lippert, chief commercial officer.

“It is very cost effective to deliver (Community Wi-Fi) to any area that has been left behind,” he said.

Along with telemedicine partner i9 Labs, Viasat officials demonstrated to ambassadors how satellite connectivity can deliver health services outside of big cities, including online video examinations and transmission of pulse, blood pressure and other data via i9’s briefcase-size Medic in a Box application.

“We have seen a lot of technology innovation here,” said Kumar Karki, the ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. “I have already established a couple of good contacts here. I am going to take them to my health ministry, education ministry, so we can collaborate.”

Mukantabana, the Rwanda ambassador, said the tour of the border helped her understanding of the contentious issue that’s a big part of the conversation in Washington D.C.

“We hear about the border though the political lens,” she said. “But when you are facing the physical reality of the border, and you think about the geographical size, what I walked away with is integrity and security at the border is very complex. What impressed me is what it takes. I can appreciate the people who do this job. It is not an everyday job.”