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Jan 29, 2002

December B.T.L. bills unchanged, January rollback

If calls to the morning talk shows are any indication, there is still a fair amount of confusion over exactly what rates Belizeans will now pay for telecommunication services. After talking to sources in both B.T.L. and the government, we can safely report the following:

All telephone usage in January will now be billed at the rates, which prevailed prior to December first. This means monthly line access reverts to eight dollars for residential customers and twenty dollars for businesses. Local calls come back to five cents a minute in Belize City and a flat fifteen cents per call in the districts, while phone rental returns to two dollars per month. On the other side of the equation, rates for inter-district, international, cellular, and internet service have also been rolled back to their old–and higher–rates. That means twenty-five and fifty-five cents per minute for zones one and two district calls, while calls to North America return to a punishing two seventy-five. Meanwhile, regular cellular service climbs back to seventy cents per minute, while pre-paid goes back to ninety-nine. Internet will cost forty dollars per month, including eight hours free, with each additional hour at four dollars. Remaining unchanged is the eight percent sales tax, which applies to everything on the bill.

What seems to have caused the greatest confusion is complaints by customers who are heavy users of cell phone or international service. They argue that they benefited greatly from the “re-balanced” rates and are now being asked to pay for government’s decision to force the B.T.L. rollback. They are right, of course… but only in the short run. What B.T.L. has failed to tell the public is that come January first, 2003, at least one new competitor will come on the scene with far lower rates for cellular, district, and international calls…and B.T.L. will be forced to reduce its rates to keep your business. What they will not be forced to do, however, is lower rates for local calls and line access…Since no competitor will choose to duplicate B.T.L.’s extensive hard wired local network. This means that if B.T.L. is allowed to raise these rates by up to one hundred and fifty percent–as they tried to do in December–they will likely never come down. This means that the twenty million dollars in extra revenue B.T.L. would earn each year from local increases would turn into two hundred million by the end of a decade. That’s two hundred million more dollars in B.T.L.’s pockets and not in those of Belizean consumers. According to one leader of CAPU, “One more year of high international and cell phone rates is a small price to pay for two hundred million dollars in savings.” In a final note, consumers are reminded that the December B.T.L. bills, which are due for payment at the end of this month, remain unchanged and must be paid in full.

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