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Jan 23, 2008

B.T.L. installs 1000th pay phone

Story PictureSuperman, at one time may have found a phone booth to be a convenient venue for switching identities … but in the age of the cellular do we really need pay phones? Actually, we do, and this morning News Five’s Janelle Chanona found out why.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Belize’s first pay phone was installed in 1970 but by 1997, more than a quarter century later, only one hundred and eighty-eight units had been installed across the country. So today Telemedia considered it a big deal when the one thousandth pay phone was put into operation at St. Joseph’s Primary School in Belize City.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Public Utilities
“Hello Mr. Dean Boyce, Chairman of Belize Telemedia, congratulations on the installation of your one thousandth pay phone and congratulations to Telemedia for working with our government and believing in Belize.”

Cell phones are banned at St. Joseph’s so the payphone is expected to be a vital link between students and their families.

Glorycela Torres, Principal, St. Joseph’s Primary School
“We do have working parents and children sometimes who have to commute a little far and they need to touch base with their children, where they are, at the bus, it’s a form of communication and we do have a good communication with the parents and students.”

Overall, the dramatic surge in cellular customers has decreased pay phone use but Telemedia’s Dean Boyce says the company will continue to provide the units.

Dean Boyce, Chairman, Executive Committee
“Not one of our payphones makes a profit. They make some contributions in terms of revenues but they don’t make a profit if you factor in all associated costs. But that’s not really our objective, our objective here is to provide a social service.”

And while this morning’s ceremony was to celebrate a pay phone, in election season, politics is never far away. During the event, Fonseca plugged the People’s United Party’s proposal to distribute laptops to primary and secondary school students and highlighted consumer benefits that have occurred under the Musa administration.

Ralph Fonseca
“In 1998, an international call going to the U.S. during peak hours was two dollars and seventy-five cents per minute. That same call today is as low as ninety-two cents per minute, a seventy percent reduction. In 1998, a cellular pre-paid call were ninety-nine cents per minute, today pre-paid customers pay as low as twenty-five cents per minute, a reduction of seventy-five percent. Internet services, which initially cost two hundred and fifty dollars per month, are only one hundred dollars a month for much faster speed, twenty four hours a day.”

And according to Fonseca, legal troubles between the country’s biggest provider and the Government are firmly in the past.

Janelle Chanona
“Competition got off to a rocky start with the Intelco affair and then later Mr. Prosser’s involvement, where are we now as far as opening up the market for the benefit of consumers?”

Ralph Fonseca
“Well as you know we finally got interconnection and that was the real problem with creating competition. Not only a problem where we are challenged in court, and we almost went all the way to the Privy Council insisting that we had to have interconnection because that’s the only way we could have competition but it was also a technologically problem, it was not as easy as many people believed, even the technocrats involved in the industry. We’ve gone past all that, gone through all the litigation, gone through the technological problems, we now have two companies competing as you know, they have full interconnection. You can use either company and call the lines of the other company, both of them are bringing down rates together so I would say we are very much up front, certainly in the region as it relates to being competitive.”

Janelle Chanona
“And no more cases in court?”

Ralph Fonseca
“Not that I know of, absolutely none with government, not with the Government of Belize, no.”

Fonseca says both Telemedia and SMART are planning to launch rural and urban wireless service later this year. And while Telemedia and Belmopan have kissed and made up, with general elections two weeks away, Boyce had this message for all politicians willing to listen.

Dean Boyce
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job. We’re reducing our prices, we’re rolling out new services, we’re expanding the coverage, additional payphones, big growth in the last few years and whoever is sitting within the P.U.C. and the Government should really be keen to work with us because I can’t quite see what else they can expect us to be doing. We are going to be spending a hundred million dollars in this current investment program so we are prepared to put our money in and we’ve got five hundred, well less than five hundred, really good staff within Telemedia that are completely committed to Belize so you give us a chance, we’ll demonstrate what we can do. You just gotta have a bit of trust and faith in us.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

To use a pay phone you’ll need a prepaid B.T.L. phone card. Emergency numbers, however, remain free of charge.

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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