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Jan 30, 2002

Intelco & G.O.B. inaugurate school computer plan

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It is not exactly a household word in Belize, but if executives of Intelco have their way, that name will soon reverberate throughout the country… beginning in the schools. News 5′s Stewart Krohn reports on the long awaited inauguration of a programme to launch Belizean kids into cyberspace… and their parents into an era of cheaper communication.

Stewart Krohn, Reporting

You could tell it was an unusually important event by the number of ministers in attendance. And indeed, by any measure, the inauguration of a programme to provide five thousand computers and free internet service to nearly every student in Belize, must be greeted with respect. But while today’s ribbon cutting at St. Mary’s involving the first twenty machines was a big day for the kids, it was also much more: it was the coming out party for Intelco, the company that snared a contract to provide government with telecom services, and will become B.T.L.’s first major competitor come January 2003.

Promising to beat the green giant in both service and price, Intelco CEO, Juan McKenzie promised that his company’s rates would be low, but…

Stewart Krohn

“How low is low?”

Juan McKenzie, CEO, Intelco

“A lot lower than B.T.L. today.”

And how could a tiny country with at least two major competitors support such low rates?

Juan McKenzie

“I’m planning to grow the market. What I’m basically looking at, is that maybe people that don’t have the opportunity to have service today, our rates will be so low that they could have service tomorrow. So, the market would grow, double what we have today. Because people always need telephone service, don’t care where they live, what’s their economic condition. The problem is that if you give them a good rate, they will have it because they need it. People need to speak, people need Internet at their house, people need cellular phones to move around with. And the basic thing today is they don’t have it because the rates are high.”

As for charges by B.T.L. that the field of the telecommunications play has been tilted in favour of Intelco, Prime Minister Said Musa said that it all depends on how you define the concept of a level playing field.

Prime Minister Said Musa

“What we are saying is that Intelco will get the government business. The government business is only twelve percent of the gross revenue of B.T.L. at this time. So B.T.L. would be able to start in competition with eighty-eight percent of the business. If anything, the playing field is not levelled but is in favour of B.T.L. But in terms of the tax position and other issues as it affects the government, all the companies who are in the telecommunications field will pay the same tax. That to me is what a level playing field is all about.”

And what politics is about is compromise. According to Minister Ralf Fonseca, government has still not given up on a peace treaty with B.T.L.

Ralph Fonseca, Min. of Budget Planning

“I think we’re still trying to find a compromise. We’re still very hopeful that we can salvage this whole situation. We believe that the market is big enough and it’s growing, for competitors to survive together and keep their shareholders satisfied. The days are gone of a monopoly, that is a fact, regardless of whether it’s our political party or some other party in government. That is the reality.”

Another reality is that the man sitting across the negotiating table, Lord Michael Ashcroft, wields the kind of financial power that if used destructively can mean trouble for unruly governments. If Fonseca was scared, he wasn’t showing it this afternoon.

Ralph Fonseca

“You had nineteen guys the other day that had nothing, that bought some airplane tickets, jumped into some planes and turned the whole world upside down; so anybody can cause trouble, it depends on what your objective is. When you’re in government, you can’t be concerned about that, you can’t be planning for all the probabilities. All that we can do is have a clear, clean conversation with him and with his people, try to find a compromise. If there are threats out there, if this becomes another Ralph Fonseca thing, and if he thinks he can handle that, that’s fine. I do not want that to happen, obviously I do not want that to happen, and I’ve been staying far away from that.

I have heard, however, what he has said in the media and what he said to his employees last night in particular, which was most disgusting. One of them was kind enough to tape it and get it to my offices, and I hope that that kind of nonsense stops, because that can accelerate to cause problems. But anybody can cause trouble, you don’t have to be a billionaire to cause trouble.”

Prime Minister Said Musa

“If Mr. Ashcroft chooses, or if he has decided to finance our opposition and to take on the government by using his money to finance the Opposition, that is entirely a matter for him; it’s his money after all. But what we cannot accept, are any innuendoes and false allegations that would affect the enabling environment of Belize as an investment country. We welcome investment and we will not allow anyone to tarnish that good name of Belize.”

As far as Intelco was concerned, government–red or blue–was not the issue.

Juan McKenzie

“We have to give service to the people. We will give it for the best price and that is what we call competition; get out there, give the people service, a low rate and a high quality, let them use it. What they will do at the end of the day, they will look at both companies and say I want to work with Intelco.

From St. Mary’s Hall, Stewart Krohn for News 5.

For those who cannot place Mr. McKenzie’s accent, he hails from Panama. The school computer programme is scheduled to be instituted gradually over the entire country. A programme much more limited in scope was inaugurated in selected schools several years ago by…the Michael Ashcroft Foundation.

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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