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Apr 23, 2003

High-speed Internet coming via cable

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The Internet is a touchy subject in Belize, with most subscribers caught in a web of daily frustration. But optimistic rumours abound regarding the future…and over the last few weeks News 5′s Patrick Jones has been checking them out.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

Ask Belizean Internet users what is the biggest problem with the present dial-up system, they’ll tell you one thing: speed. In Belize, it seems, most people are still riding the turtle express.

When B.T.L.’s monopoly grip on the telecommunications industry ended last December, there were already several people in line at the Public Utilities Commission waiting for licenses to enter the market. Their sales pitch is that they will offer faster, more affordable Internet access, among other services.

Four months later, Belizeans are still waiting for the promised liberalization of telecommunication services, which is supposed to assist in the development of the country.

Gilbert Canton, Chairman, Public Utilities Commission

“I think what it will do, is it will allow for a lot more opportunities for everybody, not only opportunities in e-commerce, where they can market their products in a wider international scenario, but also for educational purposes, for communication. It’s just going to open a lot of windows for everybody to participate in the new global economy as we like to say.”

The new face of this section of the telecom market in Belize is taking on a different look. And among the first to get their feet wet in this so far unexplored territory is MyCuz company, a trio of cousins who have teamed up with Belize’s largest cable operator to put high speed internet at the fingertips of thousands of Belizeans.

Errol Cattouse, President, MyCuz

“It’s a service that we thought Belize was really in demand for. And the cable network will allow us to do this, and as soon as we realized that the monopoly from B.T.L. was going to come up, then we started to looking into the possibility of us doing this and offering this service in Belize… Belize is more than ready for us. Like I said the cable system that’s out there right now will allow us to offer this service. It’s not a problem, it’s just a matter of us making sure the system is up and running efficiently and working.”

The service being offered by these young entrepreneurs will utilize existing network infrastructure owned by Baymen Cable to redistribute high-speed satellite Internet access initially to residents on the north side of Belize City and later to the south. Subscribers will pay an installation fee of fifty dollars and agree to pay a monthly fee of ninety dollars for one hundred and twenty-eight kilobits per second unlimited access to the Internet via cable modem. And while the price is steep, Cattouse says that compared to what is currently available, it’s a good deal.

Errol Cattouse

“To us it’s a best buy. Obviously with B.T.L., I hate to mention names, but obviously with the service that is currently being provided, currently is you have a 56k connection and you’re paying by the minute. With this you have an unlimited access, so it’s a flat fee, you know what your bill will be at the end of the month. With the current service you have no idea, you’re guessing what your bill will be at the end of the month.”

While the other countries of Central America find themselves in a similar situation, trying to bring the latest technology to the people of the region at an affordable cost, in Belize the Public Utilities Commission will try to make sure things are done according to the book. A rough estimate by industry experts is that over a hundred and fifty satellite dishes for Internet service are already in use around the country. According to P.U.C. regulations, these dishes are illegal, but owners can make them legal without any hassles.

Dr. Gilbert Canton

“But what we’re trying to do is to make sure now that these things become regularize, that there is a legal way of providing this service. So we’re asking the people who want to provide that service in Belize to go and make sure that they have some sort of formal contractual arrangements with the person that were selling them the dishes. For example if it’s a Starband dish or it’s a Direct Way dish or something, we’re asking them to come to the P.U.C. with proof that what have made a legal formal legal arrangement with the providers that they can legally put their service in Belize.”

In Belize, US-COM is the agent for the Starband satellite system. General Manager Julio Cheng is confident that over time all the kinks in the chain will be worked out.

Julio Cheng, General Manager, US-COM

“We’re a small country. We can brag about the high technology outside the country. We are already slow, way behind technically speaking. We have to accept the new things to come in; we have to accept that’s the truth. We have to improve our lives because a lot of things are available outside of the country, we’re talking about global village. We are part of the village, we have to accept those facts.”

Being a part of the global village, however, is coming at a high cost compared to other Internet providers in the region. Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission Gilbert Canton says there is little they can do as a hefty piece of the revenue pie derived from Internet and other telecommunications services goes directly to Government.

Dr. Gilbert Canton

“The provision of telecommunications service falls under the classification in the business tax as telecommunication services. That attracts a nineteen percent business tax charge on it. So any provider that gets a license to provide telecommunications service, would under the present structure, have to pay to government a nineteen percent business tax along with the regular, I think the sales tax, which I think government is saying that they are going to remove soon, for certain customers.”

Patrick Jones

“But despite the tax burden and stiff competition from larger better financed providers, a level playing field the number one priority for the new mavericks. They are intent it seems to just get their feet in the door. Both MyCuz and US-COM agreed that they have to carve a niche in the market for their brand of products.”

Errol Cattouse

“Obviously B.T.L. has the pocket to give us a good run for our money. And we are not looking at B.T.L. as our major competitor. There are other people involved in this that are offering the service. So they are not our major competitor, they are our largest competitor, but there are other major competitors out there.”

Julio Cheng

“Everybody has different needs. For example if you want to use your Internet in your car, you can’t use D.S.L. line or cable modem, you have to get it wireless. So basically in different field it’s not much competition, just depends on what customers want.”

And what customers want is, not free, but affordable, reliable Internet. Cattouse says he and his partners have spent over a hundred thousand dollars to bring cable Internet to Belize. And they say they are prepared to dig even deeper into their pockets to make this dream a reality.

Patrick Jones

“As more and more people join the push to open up the telecom market in Belize, and with a promise from Government to remove the sales tax from home phone bills, the birthing pains of the new telecommunications revolution are expected to quickly pass. Patrick Jones, for News 5.”

Subscribers on the Baymen Cable system will get a modem free of cost, including installation. Cattouse says they are in the final stages of testing and should start home installations at the end of the month. Belize City’s other cable service, C.B.C. will also be offering its own high-speed Internet service with northside rollout set to begin in a few months. For the record, News 5 requested interviews from both B.T.L. and INTELCO about their high-speed Internet service. We are still awaiting their return call.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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