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#358523 - 11/21/09 04:08 PM No more SMART phone service
Marty Offline
Telephone users, ninety thousand of them who are subscribers of SMART may find that from early this morning they can’t make international phone calls. That’s because Belize Telemedia Limited has disconnected Smart from its international circuits. BTL has accused SMART of being the beneficiary of a sweetheart deal signed in 2004. SpeedNet Communications Limited, the company that owns Smart, issued a release this morning in which it said it pays Telemedia rates of up to fourteen thousand dollars per E1 capacity. It also claims that those rates are the highest international circuit rates in the region and Telemedia charges large corporate customers approximately five thousand dollars for similar access. To prove that it is paying Telemedia more than its fair share for its services, SpeedNet also points to the fact that it is paying one point three million dollars annually to B.T.L. for facilities it leases from it. SpeedNet is now applying to Telemedia for direct access to the Americas Region Caribbean Ring System (ARCOS-1); a fiber optic submarine communications cable of 8,400 kilometers that spans throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. SMART says it intends to pay for its share of the running cost of the ARCOS installation. SpeedNet has sought an audience with the Public Utilities Commission and the Belize Chamber of Commerce. Chamber board member Israel Marin, says that the Chamber is trying to get both SMART and Telemedia to sit down and discuss the issue. But that hasn’t happened and according to SMART’s Chief Operations Officer, Ernesto Torres, the company is still without international phone services.

Ernesto Torres, Chief Operations Officer, SMART
“Well this morning Telemedia pulled the plug on the circuits that we use for international voice. We currently have where we lease these circuits from Telemedia on a month to month basis. So obviously the lease has been cancelled unilaterally by them. We don’t think it’s something that should have been done and in fact we think that Telemedia has acted in a very abusive manner, taking advantage of its dominant position in the market to cause economic harm, not only to Speednet but to ninety thousand subscribers and businesses who depend on and who use Speednet services.”

Jose Sanchez
“Do you view it as illegal?”

Ernesto Torres
“If you have an arrangement whereby you supply a lease to a person and you break that lease without giving adequate notice because remember there was very little notice given, then there's something inherently wrong with that. We inquired from them, if you’re going to terminate it then what is an alternative that you can offer us. In the letter they said we cannot continue to provide this to you because it is priced below cost. We said okay we’re interested in knowing what the cost should be. We wrote to them, we sent them emails but to today’s date we have no reply.”

Jose Sanchez
“Have you gone to the P.U.C.?”

Ernesto Torres
“Yes, we wrote the P.U.C. on the seventeenth of November and the only time we started hearing from the P.U.C. was when the plug was pulled. So in our opinion the P.U.C. was not proactive enough to deal with the situation before it got out of hand.”

Jose Sanchez
“So what is the P.U.C. doing now?”

Ernesto Torres
“The P.U.C. has asked us for certain information to show that we have an arrangement with Telemedia for these circuits and we have sent that to them.”

Jose Sanchez
“Why haven’t you filed for an injunction?”

Ernesto Torres
“We are exploring options right; legal and otherwise because that’s what we—one of our primary concerns right now is to make sure that our customers get back their international and we are hoping by Sunday we will get that. The way this will be solved is that Telemedia needs to grant SpeedNet access to the ARCOS submarine cable. That cable is there to be used in Belize for legitimate purposes by specially licensed carriers and there is no reason why that should be denied. Once that is provided this whole problem goes away.”

Jose Sanchez
“Do they own the ARCOS?”

Ernesto Torres
“No, they own shares in the consortium because ARCOS is a consortium. Belize owns I think like less than one percent but it’s still an owner. But there is what you call a construction and maintenance agreement that Telemedia is a signatory to, to all the other parties that make up the consortium. And if you look at that agreement they are mandated as a landing party to make that cable available to other entities in the country where the cable is because it’s for business use.”

Jose Sanchez
“Do you see it as a move towards making Telemedia a monopoly in the industry?”

Ernesto Torres
“Well, that’s clearly how the thing is looking at the moment. If you’re going to destabilize the telecommunications industry by denying ninety thousand subscribers access to international services on extremely short notice then how else do you interpret it.”

Shortly before the news began, the P.U.C. issued release asking Telemedia to renege on its decision to cut off SMART’s international lines until the matter is resolved. After hearing the news, SMART’s Chief Operations Officer said that he is glad the P.U.C. was able to see that the needs of the consumers came first. And he hopes that Telemedia would agree with the PUC’s recommendation.

Channel 5

#358528 - 11/21/09 04:16 PM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

BTL Pulls the Plug on Smart's Long Distance Service

Tonight, Smart phone users cannot make international long distance calls. And it’s because BTL has terminated that phone company’s use of what’s called an E1 service – which is basically a chunk of internet bandwidth that Smart was leasing from BTL to allow its customers to make cheap long distance calls using, or voice over internet. A lot of it is technical, but the bottom line is that Smart is crying foul – they say that the government controlled BTL just isn’t playing fair, and BTL is saying that the Smart is only now facing genuine competition.

Belize Telemedia gave Smart’s parent company, Speednet, notice of its intention to pull the plug a week ago and so today as promised Telemedia disconnected Smart’s unfiltered access to its E-1. That cut Smart’s 90,000 subscribers off from making or receiving international calls. Senior managers at Smart met with the Public Utilities Commission this morning and in a late breaking development, PUC Chairman John Avery is asking BTL to restore Smart’s access to the international circuits.

It is a consequential development but we begin tonight with both sides of the story. We spoke to the Executive Chairman of BTL Net Vasquez and Smart’s Chief Executive Officer Ernesto Torres.

Ernesto Torres, Chief Executive Officer – SMART
“Telemedia pulled the plug this morning on our international circuits which control both our inbound and outbound. I can’t say what time but I believe it was between nine and ten this morning or thereabout.”

Nestor Vasquez, Executive Chairman - BTL
“What we have terminated is the unfiltered fibre link that they had. They used that in ways that allowed them to undercut our rates for international calls. They passed all their outgoing calls on that and we have noticed that they can do that only because it is an unfiltered fibre link that they get from us. BTL can no longer subsidize Speednet in their telecommunication business. We can no longer continue to take losses on facilities that we provide to them. That is the reason why.”

Ernesto Torres,
“When we received the letter, we went back and said okay, if you are pricing it below cost, what is the price you are asking for, give us a quotation then for the price you would like and we never got a reply.”

Keith Swift,
“Did you accept then, because you were willing to renegotiate so do you accept that the arrangement was unfair or imbalanced?”

Ernesto Torres,
“No because we don’t know what Telemedia, in fact cost for international lease circuits are far below the price that we were paying. So I don’t see how that can be the case. And even if you feel that you are not being appropriately being compensated for it, don’t disconnect the circuit and then say I am being underpaid for circuit. Just simply say, listen, why can’t you give me a quotation for what you believe is the true price for it. You don’t behave in that manner.”

Nestor Vasquez,
“There are alternative ways in which they can put through their calls. Right now their incoming calls come through our gateway switch. They can pass all their outgoing calls through the same gateway switch. Why don’t they do that? But then they would have to pay the proper price for it. They will have to pay adequately to get that service. I repeat, their incoming come through our gateway, well their outgoing can go through our gateway but let’s pay the right price.”

Ernesto Torres,
“We are pursuing other alternatives but the time frame is too short. You gave the company only four working days. That is the issue.”

Keith Swift,
“What’s the solution?”

Ernesto Torres,
“To me the long term solution is for Telemedia to grant Speednet direct access to ARCOS. That solves the problem once and for all and they are compensated and Speednet has written to Telemedia asking for a direct access because that solves the whole problem.”

Keith Swift,
“They say they want access to ARCOS.”

Nestor Vasquez,
“Well I notice that they have been copying their letters to the PUC and to everyone, let them pursue that line, let’s see what the PUC says about that.”

Keith Swift,
“So what if they don’t open ARCOS?”

Ernesto Torres,
“If they don’t then we need to go and find a more permanent solution because right now what we are looking for is sourcing bandwidth for us to make sure that our customers get their service by Sunday. Now if that bandwidth can remain available on a long term and surprisingly if that cost turns out to be less than what we were paying Telemedia then the argument falls apart.

I think Telemedia has acted in a very very abusive manner, taking advantage of its dominance in the market. Prior owners of Telemedia have negotiated these agreements because they found certain things weren’t to their liking, we renegotiated. I can’t see why these can’t be renegotiated again. If they find that there is something unacceptable, sit down and negotiate them again. That’s what the previous owners of Telemedia did.”

Nestor Vasquez,
“They are getting away with murder and it is time for us to end that. If they want to talk business, look there are four agreements that were signed years ago. Put all those four agreements on the table and with the new owners let’s look at all of them. They want to talk serious business, let’s talk serious business. That is the proper thing to do.”

Ernesto Torres says that Smart is sourcing other options for bandwidth and expects to restore its international access by Sunday. But as we told you at the top, the Public Utilities Commission has intervened and in a letter late this evening Chairman John Avery has advised BTL that it is, “prudent for BTL to continue to provide the relevant services to Speednet.” That we note is a suggestion, not a directive.

The PUC has requested that both companies to submit all written agreements to the PUC by 5 pm on Monday. The PUC says it will review the agreements and will then issue instructions on how both parties can renegotiate the agreements if necessary. If changes aren’t necessary, the PUC will, instruct both parties to continue honouring the agreement. Interestingly the PUC writes that many of the existing agreements are illegal since they weren’t submitted to the PUC for approval before they were signed. So that is where it stands tonight – the PUC has, at best, urged BTL to reconnect Smart until the issue can be worked out.

We should note that the Chamber of Commerce chimed in today - appealing to the PUC to intervene because the disconnection of international access to Smart customers would be detrimental. BTL’s Chief Operating Officer Karen Bevans replied to the Chamber today calling the letter to the PUC discourteous since the Chamber failed to contact BTL, a member of the Chamber, prior to writing the PUC.

Channel 7

#358628 - 11/23/09 02:33 PM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline


November 20, 2009

Earlier this week Speednet Communications accused Telemedia of sabotage after Telemedia said they would disconnect Speednet from its international connection. Today Love News spoke with Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

"I not only understand what Telemedia has done; I applaud it. We from the point of view of the government made clear shortly after the nationalization that these contracts had in fact been examined between Speednet and Telemedia; a number of contracts. These contracts the commercial or the arrangements, commercial in quotations marks, between the two companies were designed to clearly favor Speednet in a manner that any objective observer would see as outrageous. At my last press conference I made the point that we the now government now controled Telemedia did not sit by and allow these outrageous arrangements to continue. So, to the extent that Telemedia commercially and contractually is entitled to put aside agreements that obviously were not entered into on any arms length basis then Telemedia aught to be encouraged to do just that. When they take that sort of an action they must be applauded for one reason above all others. Telemedia has been nationalized by the Government of Belize; compensation would have to be paid to the previous owners. That compensation must clearly come from two sources, from the profits that Telemedia will make while it is exclusively in governments hands and from the revenue derived from the sale of shares when government attempts to re-privatize Telemedia. If unfair commercial agreements designed to benefit smart are allowed to cripple Telemedia's viability or in any way interfere with that viability it will mean that Telemedia's profitability was affected, thus there will be less revenue out of which government can pay compensation to the previous owners. It will also mean that the lessened profitability would make the shares in Telemedia less attractive when government issues the prospectus and attempts to sell those shares. In that kind of a context it is ultimately the tax payer that would have to make up any short falls that result from those sort of development because if government cannot get pay compensation from Telemedia's profits or from the sale of shares the money will have to come out of tax payers pockets and that cannot be allowed to happen. Anything that Telemedia has to do to put right a situation in which smart is unfairly affecting Telemedia's profitability and viability must be done."

We asked Prime Minister Barrow to comment on Speednet’s campaign to get the Chamber of Commerce and Smart customers involved in asking the Public Utilities Commission to intervene.  Earlier today the Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a release asking the intervention of the PUC in the matter. 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

"There must be ways in which Smart; Speednet can in fact proceed with international calls without using Telemedia's platform. If that is technically not possible at the time, if there is a fairly simple solution, let the users of the Smart phone buy Telemedia's cards in order to make their international calls. I am sure that it can be sorted out and I am sure that telemedia has indicated that the intension is not to frottle Smart; the intention is to remove the disadvantage; the prejudice to Telemedia that the old arrangement. Telemedia as I understand it invited Smart to quickly negotiate those arrangements and particular this arrangement so as to ensure that there might not be any interruption in the service. Instead of doing that Smart has gone on some kind of public relations attack and has sought to the chamber and other. Well I am perfectly firm in my position. We have to recollect the backdrop that I sketched for you earlier. We have to remember the circumstances in which these grossly unfair were conceived when un-benounced to the Belizean people when the former moving force behind Telemedia also owned Smart and was determined drain Telemedia because ultimately any loss of profits would have to be made up by Belizean tax payers. In that context I do not see how anybody in his or her right mind can blame Telemedia for merely saying Smart come now and negotiate proper arms length agreements you owe it to your consumers to settle with BTL on an even equitable  basis so that there might not be any interruption in service in service. If Smart does not want to do that it is on them."


#358629 - 11/23/09 02:34 PM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline


November 20, 2009

Earlier today BTL, the nation’s largest telecommunications provider, succeeded in removing Speednet from its ARCOS fiber optic system. The move effectively halts subscribers of its rival cellular service provider from making calls abroad. Speednet however is not taking it lying down and according to its Chief Executive Officer Ernesto Torres the company is doing all it can to return full service to its customer within the next few days.

Ernesto Torres; Chief Executive Officer, Speednet

"We are exploring all our options; legal and otherwise. One of our primary concerns right now is to make sure that our customers get back their international. We are hoping that by Sunday we will get that. We are trying to source bandwidth elsewhere. Telemedia has made it perfectly clear that they do not want to offer it to us. The way this thing is going to be solved is that Telemedia needs to grant Speednet access to the our customary cable. That cable is there to be used in Belize for legitimate purposes by specially license carriers and there is no reason why that should be denied. Once that is provided this whole problem goes away."

Speednet does not wish to disclose who or where it is seeking bandwidth from but Torres maintains that Telemedia’s action to some extent constitutes a breach of contract.

Ernesto Torres; Chief Executive Officer, Speednet

"One thing is to give your lessee lets say three months, two months or whatever the case may be. Say listen I am going to terminate this. That is understandable because for example when you rent a house you get a pretty decent advance notice. Here we got four working days. ARCOS is a consortium; Belize owns I think less than one percent but it is still an owner. But there is what you call a construction and maintenance agreement that Telemedia is a signatory to, to all the other parties that make up the consortium. If you look at that agreement they are mandated to make as a landing party, to make that cable available to other entities in the country because it is for business use."

You would recall that since government assumed control of Telemedia it has been engaged in a fierce marketing campaign against Speednet including a promotion where rival customers can redeem Smart phones to Telemedia in return for a promotional package. When asked if this can be seen as the proverbial ‘nail in the coffin’ here is what Torres had to say.

Ernesto Torres; Chief Executive Officer, Speednet

"I am not sure it is the final blow because it will take more than this to bring Speednet down. Clearly it is one of a series of many things that Telemedia would like to do to disrupt the operations of Speednet. If you are going to destabilize the telecommunications industry by denying 90 thousand subscribers access to international services on extremely short notice then how else do you interpret that?"

Torres says that in the future Speednet will establish its own cellular network.

Ernesto Torres; Chief Executive Officer, Speednet

"Starting next year we are going to be installing a brand new network that is going to offer high speed broad band to your mobile phone. We are doing fear amount of much better services than we are currently offering. The process of detaching Speednet from Telemedia will begin with that, where our switch and other equipment that goes along with it will be located right in this building. That is the first thing. Now, clearly for us to go build a parallel network takes time. You do not just build a tour in a month. It will take us some time but that is the intent."

Speednet maintains that the service it provides its customers remains its number one priority and that it should resolve and inconveniences caused within a timely manner.


#358667 - 11/23/09 07:04 PM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Marty]
Peter Jones Offline
They waited of course until after many people had taken advantage of the triple credit offer and put large amounts of money on their phones, in the expectation of using it up on international calls in the month it would be valid. My $300 is far less than the amounts several people I know have put on. That credit will undoubtedly lapse unused at the end of the month. Are SMART being honest with us, or are they being disingenuous?

#358960 - 11/25/09 04:06 AM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Peter Jones]
Marty Offline
Smart says limited international services restored

In respect of the war between the two telephone operators, SMART subscribers were able to access limited international and roaming services this morning through independent services and not through Belize Telemedia. On Friday, the battle between the two escalated when Telemedia cut off SMART from its international circuits claiming that Speednet, SMART’s parent company, was benefiting from a lopsided arrangement with Telemedia. The Public Utilities Commission was unavailable for comment even though late Friday it advised that Telemedia ought not to cut off the ninety thousand SMART subscribers. The P.U.C. has the power to intervene as regulator in the industry and is mandated to ensure that the dominant operator, being Telemedia, does not take advantage by eliminating or substantially damaging another licensee in the market. The Chamber of Commerce told News Five today that they were hoping for a sit down with Telemedia as soon as possible.

Channel 5

#359212 - 11/27/09 04:03 PM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
PUC to BTL & SMART: Make a Deal

Yesterday evening we promised to tell you what the PUC had decided in the dispute between BTL and Smart but we had to change that at the last minute because the PUC made a last minute change.

Initially the PUC decision had been stalled because smart did not submit its agreements for review as it has been ordered to do by the PUC. But rather than wait around for those agreements, the PUC decided to issue a directive which went out this morning. The directive orders both BTL and Smart to negotiate a new agreement for the use of the E-1 internet access service which Smart was using to send its long distance calls.

That re-negotiated agreement must be made on a cost basis since the PUC has determined that the service as it was being provided was not on a coast basis. Now that’s bad news for smart because if it wasn’t on a cost basis - that means it was being sold too cheaply; it was being sold below cost.

The 2 sides have until December 23rd to come up with the new agreement and if they don’t the PUC will intervene and craft its own agreement for Smart use of BTL’s E-1 service. Smart has independently of BTL restored its international call services.

Channel 7

#359215 - 11/27/09 04:07 PM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
Telemedia Accuses Smart of Trespassing

As we told you earlier, the PUC has ordered both BTL and Smart to renegotiate an agreement for the rental of BTL’s E-1 service. BTL sent out a release this evening saying that it has already provided Smart with two reasonable alternatives but has gotten no response.

BTL is accusing Smart of illegally installing a satellite dish on a rooftop at its corporate headquarters. The company release says that over the weekend, a Speednet employee somehow gained access to their Saint Thomas Street compound and installed the satellite dish on a rooftop. The satellite dish is allegedly what smart used to reconnect its international call service.

Telemedia says they discovered the breach yesterday and removed the satellite dish since it has no agreement for rental space on its rooftop.

Channel 7

#359221 - 11/27/09 04:16 PM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
On Friday, November 20th, 2009 Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), which is now owned and controlled by the Government of Belize (GOB), pulled the plug on Speednet’s SMART Company. By doing so, BTL disconnected the international circuits that allowed SMART to give its customers international and roaming services. What this means for over 90,000 SMART customers (almost 1/3 of Belize’s population) is that they are unable to enjoy the international services (text, voice and roaming services) offered by SMART.
It is important to understand that very few investors like competition, but at the end of the day competition is a healthy thing for consumers. When there is competition consumers can choose between one phone company or another and they have the option of deciding which company serves them best. The ability to attract customers must be done on a level playing field and it must be fair to all parties concerned; in an environment that promotes and ensures investor confidence. The hostility between BTL and SMART and the fight for increased market share has been highly publicized and has reached to an extent that BTL now suffers financially. But that’s the reality of competition; you put up or get out of business!

BTL’s action last week can be seen as a sign of desperation. Because BTL, as it appears, cannot stand the heat in the kitchen, it is exploiting an agreement made when SMART was first established to add pressure to its only competitor. The BTL strategy compels SMART customers, who are unable to enjoy international service, to “Make the Switch.” Wrong! BTL has only frustrated and agitated SMART customers and their feeling is that BTL is forcing them (SMART customers) to use BTL’s services. In fact the Prime Minister stated on national radio, “let the users of the SMART phone buy Telemedia’s (BTL) cards in order to make their international calls.”

Whoever owns BTL now still does not change the fact that BTL wants to remain a monopoly. For years, Belizeans were subjected to BTL’s high rates. When SMART came into the telecommunication picture, BTL began offering the Double Up and Triple Up credit and other competitive promotions. For over two decades BTL enjoyed the telecommunications market alone; why wait for so long to offer such deals to their customers? To make a long story short, Belizeans have been bleeding for too long and any form of competition is welcomed.

Any decision taken by BTL’s Board of Directors falls squarely on the Prime Minister as the Minister of Finance. Case in point, when GOB took over BTL, the Prime Minister stated clearly to the nation that “Speednet (SMART) would be allowed to fly free.” A few weeks after, our Prime Minister had a change of heart. The Prime Minster not only knew beforehand what BTL was going to do but “applauded” the decision. It appears that BTL is being used as a political tool, and not as an investment belonging to Belizeans. The reality of things however, is that when the Prime Minister allowed BTL to pull the plug on SMART, it sent a bad signal to investors. Investors will not come and invest in a country where the conditions to equal market access are not available. For investors to come they require a level playing field and fair competition WITHOUT government favoring one particular party or threatening a hostile takeover whenever they feel like it.

Belize is facing the worst economic status post independence and is deep in an economic recession, with a record-high cost of living, a decrease in tourism arrivals, severe unemployment and underemployment, increase in infant mortality rate especially due to the inefficiencies in the public health facilities, raising costs of utility services, loss in investor confidence and the streets overrun with criminals, the last thing any wise government would do is to destabilize, meddle in the private sector and pressure investors.

Instead of engaging in public battles that will eventually lead to litigation, GOB should get its act together and address the real issues affecting our society. Belizeans all around the country are concerned and want to know the answers to many questions. When will government address the issue of the high cost of living? When will the price of rice, beans, flour, sugar and corn go down? When will the price of fuel go down? Why must Belizeans pay a 10% increase in water when we are already burdened with a recession? How long will Belizeans wait to hear how our government will proceed to take us out of recession? What will the government do to address the crime situation that keeps increasing? What can the government do to lower the interest rates when borrowing at the commercial banks? What will the government do to address the public health problems? What is the Government doing to regain and ensure investor confidence? These are the issues our leaders need to be addressing. Picking a fight with the private sector will only hurt our economy. In ending, our leader should bear in mind that, when the elephants (GOB/BTL and SMART) fight, the grass (consumers/Belizeans) gets trampled.

San Pedro Sun

#359326 - 11/28/09 05:14 PM Re: No more SMART phone service [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
Smart claims BTL sabotage

Smart (a SpeedNet Communications service brand) called a rare press conference at its Belize City headquarters this evening, to publicly decry what it claims is deliberate sabotage by Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), which Smart claims has again chopped international phone services from Smart’s 90,000 customers.

Before the nationalization of BTL, the two competitors enjoyed a smooth relationship, owned by the same business magnate, Michael Ashcroft. Since then, however, things have been rocky.

The quarrel between Smart and BTL is expected, since the government took over BTL in August, disclosing as a part of its justification that the same Ashcroft had been majority shareholder of both phone companies. With Smart’s sister company, British Caribbean Bank, also owned by Ashcroft, suing BTL for $45 million, the hostilities have recently intensified. Caught under the feet of the fighting elephants are the grass—customers demanding their due of reliable services at reasonable costs.

BTL—which has supplied Smart with everything from room space, to tower space to Internet connection under a string of controversial contracts—put its foot down last week, leaving Smart up in arms by a decision by BTL to cut its international access in less than a week.

Smart scrambled to fix the problem, and despite technical glitches, the service was fully restored Wednesday. Amandala was able to confirm that overseas calls could be made and received. However, this evening, Smart complained that BTL had taken down a satellite device used to route international calls without using BTL’s system.

Unfortunately for Smart, channeling international communications has meant that it has had to occupy space on BTL’s international building, at the company headquarters, to place its new device to route overseas calls. BTL said that Smart did not have permission to do so, removed it, and put Smart out of international business again.

BTL claimed Smart had failed to pursue other options that fairly reflect the cost of services, and rather stuck to the option that allowed Smart to undersell its very supplier, BTL—clever moves BTL contends were enabled by four agreements signed back in 2004, when Ashcroft, Smart’s majority shareholder, also controlled BTL.

As we were heading to press today, an incensed management of Smart called a press conference claiming that BTL had sabotaged its new apparatus to route international calls through a satellite system that completely bypassed BTL’s network.

Furthermore, Smart claims that BTL has disconnected two towers – one at Ladyville and the other at Benny’s near Belama in Belize City, causing customers to lose service in those areas, as well.

Speaking with the press this evening, chief executive officer of SMART, Ernesto Torres, said that Smart has complained to the PUC of BTL’s actions and lack of proper notice, just as it did last week.

For its part, though, BTL has defended its position, saying that it never granted Smart permission to mount anything on its roof. A company release said Smart’s termination from the international dialing arrangement was necessary to curb loss of revenue it is experiencing, because of the special deals inked in 2004 by BTL and Smart.

We asked Torres today whether Smart would consider renegotiating the agreements or give them up altogether, since they seem to be the main bone of contention with BTL.

Torres said that Smart had told BTL previously that it is prepared to discuss the terms of the contracts.

BTL reported this evening that the PUC has requested all copies of documents, agreements, licenses, etc., pertaining to the 2004 agreements between Smart and BTL.

Indications are that a move is afoot to have the contentious Smart-BTL debate on the fore. BTL’s release said PUC has instructed the parties to work together in “new negotiations.”

According to Torres, Smart pays roughly $1.3 million out to BTL for services for the year.

Smart says that the disruptions in services hurt their customers.


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