Last night 7News showed you that forum which the Public Utilities Commission organized in collaboration with the international, Non-Profit organization Packet Clearing House.
In this forum, the policy makers, along with the international experts, presented a new idea to the internet service providers in Belize to produce internet bandwidth in Belize, instead of purchasing it from abroad.
As the facilitators explained it involves setting up a relatively inexpensive bandwidth source in the country called an internet exchange point.
But before this forum, majority of Belizeans probably did not know that this was possible at all. So in that context, we asked the facilitators about their expectations, when it comes to the response from the ISP’s in Belize.
They explained why, on the face of it, the companies may not receive it well, given the telecommunications environment that exists in Belize.
"Tell us how you guys plan to convince the Internet Service Providers here in Belize to come on board with this. I think they might see it as a foreign idea."
Bill Woodcock - Research Director, Packet Clearing House
"Well in the sense that these exist in almost all other countries but not Belize yet - in that sense yes it's a foreign idea but it's an idea that has been taken on by most other countries. Most other countries have adapted it as a practice that they want to do themselves. The Internet Service Providers are easily convinced because it reduces their cost as well they provide a better service for their customer which makes their customers happier and gives them better customer retention. The problem is probably with the two largest providers. I'm not an expert in the local market but typically the smaller providers are the ones who stand the most to gain and who will gain the most market share over time as an exchange point comes online and becomes successful where as the largest provider is often the one with the greatest investment in the status quo and whose least prepared to take advantage of market upheaval or radical improvements in the market place. In that sense we have the most work to do in convincing the incumbent to produce in an exchange point while everyone else is enthusiastic."
And continuing that frank discussion with us, the facilitators explained it is in the best interests of the dominant service providers in Belize to compete and provide a lower cost for their internet services. They say that contrary to the phobia, overwhelming statistics in other countries show that cheaper prices yield greater revenues:
Bevil Wooding - Internet Strategist, Packet Clearing House
"Markets that have strong dominant providers for example and this is not just in Belize, this is around the world - are normally markets where you find that there are very little concerns for what people want or what they would like to see. So how do you change that? You change that by exposing people to what exists in other parts of the world. You expose it by giving statistics, hard figures on what should be at play."
"What I've seen in the internet service providers - is that all the premium services that 8MG and other high level services are priced at a higher level. How does a policy maker protect the interests of the people while allowing reasonable growth to the ISP's?"
"That's actually not as difficult as you might think it is. The rule of the policy maker, government and policy makers is to 1 - ensure market growth, 2 - ensure that consumers whether that is business or just ordinary citizens are empowered to use the technology in ways that renown to the country's benefit and good. Now when you look at what is happening with the high prices - what you have is a situation where only a small percentage of the population is able to afford the quality of internet that you need to receive the kinds of benefits in economic growth, in business, in social activity and so on. The concern is that 'if we drop the prices then we would not be seeing the same kind of revenue as ISP's' and that's false. In every other market that prices have gone down - markets have grown so you may pay less for the service but you have more people taken up the service and that has its own economics to it. Because what you have is a case where more people are taken the ISP's and we also have more people to create businesses and business opportunities."
Bevil Wooding is also the Program Director for the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, which has done extensive research on internet availability in the Caribbean.
And last night, we told you that the representative from BTL who attended the meeting, wanted to hold off on commenting on the idea until her company has had an opportunity to review it. Well, we contacted the Public Relations Manager from Speednet who promised to put us in contact with their technical people before the end of the day. We did not get a call back.