Editorial - C'mon BTL - get it together!

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 43            November 20, 2003

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For over fifteen years, BTL has been the sole provider for communications in this country. You would think that after 15 years, a company could get its act together. If that were only the case. Instead of improved service, we constantly receive inferior service at outrageous prices - while this company collects over $40 million in profits per year - from a total population of less than 250,000 people. Sporadic Internet connections, E-mail not received at one end or the other, and let's not forget the inability to access the most basic of their services - the ability of being able to place or receive a simple phone call.

    So, what is the reason for this company not being able to reliably provide even the most basic of services they offer? I have yet to find out, and either no one at BTL has the answers or they are not saying. At this point, I don't care what THEIR problem is, all I know is, an entire country is being forced to pay for a service that is sporadic at best and this situation has to end.

    So what are our options, introduce competition? Sounds good in theory but you see, BTL does not want this and they seem to be getting their way. They cannot agree on inter-connection rates with a rival company. Besides, what good will interconnection do but pass on the inefficiencies of one company (BTL) to another? The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) finally stepped in to set the rates, but BTL did not agree with them either and has taken the matter to court, prolonging the existence of this monopoly. It seems this company is much bigger than the people it serves and above the regulatory body that is empowered to oversee it. And, let's not forget - a government that seems to have its head buried in the sand while private individuals and businesses lose revenue because of overpriced incompetence. It would seem that a government, that in one day, can pass a highly controversial (and many say unconstitutional) law, that takes away EVERY citizen's rights to sue a foreign-owned electricity company who is building a dam, could do something to protect the citizens they are sworn to serve. According to the new Macal Hydroelectric Development Act, it does not matter if the dam works or not, breaks and wipes out entire villages and towns, destroys the environment or pollutes the river - the electric company is not responsible and cannot be taken to court no matter if the damage was intentional or not. So, why are our elected officials taking no action while the entire population of this country suffers financial loss? Why are they allowing a foreign-owned company to destroy a tourism economy that the private sector works so hard to sustain? What good does all the promotion of this country as a tourism destination do when businesses cannot respond to hotel reservations and other bookings, simply because they cannot receive E-mails or phone calls or reply to the interested party. All because of the continuing incompetence of a supposed communications provider?

    Maybe we need to break it down to our elected officials, exactly how much income businesses are losing because of Lord Ashcroft's company and how much in tax dollars that translates into. We could make it very simple for them to understand, we'll just break it down to how many new cars and drivers our elected officials could have, or how many new houses they could own. That might get their attention. If that doesn't do it, maybe we should start charging government a revenue replacement tax to cover our losses.

    So you might ask, what solution do I have? Well, I don't have one. In order to have a solution you must first know what the REAL problem is. So far, no one at BTL seems to want to identify it or give an honest answer to any questions. I also feel that it isn't up to me to come up with a solution. After all, I haven't been the monopoly providing communications for the last fifteen years. I don't have a staff of hundreds of so-called "professionals," nor have I raked in $40 million per year in profits. Also, I was not one of the people running for political office who promised to find solutions to our communications problems. I have no authority or power to make the necessary changes or laws to end this "circus". My only recourse is to write and urge our elected officials in Belmopan to get off their back-sides and do their jobs, and I urge everyone to do the same.

    There is an old saying, "You can't serve two masters." Maybe it's time government realizes, "You can't serve two lords."

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