REPORT #289 May 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

We just got forwarded to the Belize Culture List debating forum, some news on the coverage of the new EPZ going into the Boom area and supposedly soon, another one at the Corozal Libertad Factory area.

It is clear that from the media coverage sent to the culture list debating forum, that this deal is not intended to improve access to either telephones, or locally owned internet e-commerce businesses on the local Belizean scene. It is geared solely to offshore investments and supposedly, this will be on-line gambling. Out of this, Belize is going to get some employeed people, perhaps as many as 300 in what would be an internet training capacity, or possibly plain old data processing typing, in ready made software packages.

This is all to the good and another diversification of the economy of Belize. What is not clear is who is promoting and financing the operations. It seems from the news article that Glen Godfrey, PUP lawyer and his wife are the financiers. The investment is supposed to be $8 million. I have no idea where a local Belizean lawyer got $8 million from, but I suppose the income tax department would have the records as taxes have to be paid on income. One gossipy rumor alleged that Glen Godfrey, a PUP lawyer got a $14 million loan from Social Security funds at 8.5%. I doubt that, as the social security funds are in a TRUST. The Development Finance Corporation would be the proper source for local borrowing. I suppose this will clear up, as investigative reporters dig into the deal.

When you get a loan, if there was a loan of this magnitude, one wonders if it went to a company LTD. Or to the individual? If you mention social security funds and a company loan in the same breath as a PUP party lawyer, one's imagination runs riot with ideas of another ripoff of social security funds. With limited liability, a company can sell the shares, transfer assets to offshore IBC's and go broke without anybody being found liable to pay back the loan. If there was a loan, what would be the assets?

A bunch of warehouses would hardly be enough. You could overprice them, if it was a scam and skim a few millions, transfer shares, assets and stuff and leave whoever loaned the money holding the empty bag. Whatever, we don't know and are just speculating on rumors anyway. I have faith in the port town media looking into the situation and if not protecting the public interest, at least exposing any conflicts of interest.

The Boom EPZ claim 15 clients already. A number of smaller companies are providing associate services for their fees. The $30,000 USA up front fee, is a turnoff for any local Belizean e-commerce startup. So is a U.S. $950 fee for a 64 k connection. Obviously the EPZ operation wants only foreign businesses with e-commerce and no local Belizean startups.

Costwise, a Belizean wishing some server space and a few web pages for e-commerce, should in theory be able to do the same as the USA. Get 12 megabytes free, and let foreign advertisers pay for it, like they do in the USA. But this is not mentioned. There is no provision for free web space, e-mail accounts or other web space in any servers in the EPZ for small businesspeople in Belize. This is a drawback to the current arrangements.

Alternatively, any Belizean could put in an ISP service and server in Belize for less than $1000 Belizean. Two $100 computers, that are outmoded will serve, using Linnux RED HAT software and if unlimited internet service rates were regulated to $50 Belizean currency, per month, I would imagine a dozen ISP services would be created around the country of Belize within six months. Unfortunately, the BTL monopoly thwarts that idea.

In Western Panama, in the indian villages of the mountains, you can get unlimited internet service from a local ISP for $48 Bz per month. If the indian communities and farms of remote western Panama can get it, then obviously Belizeans should be able to also. It is a fault of the PUP that they haven't regulated unlimited internet service rates yet.

One commentator who is in the technology communications business in the USA, put forward the comment that a VSAT license, with a long distance gateway, and a wireless ITSP available to all in a local cell would be the way to go. I have to admit, I thought he might be talking Mongolian or something. But took the time to search the internet and inform myself. It seems he was talking American English.

VSAT is a system of satellite communications, which is numeric based that is used in locations where local limited traditional telecom infra structure does not exist. God only knows, that describes a good portion of the nation of Belize. I even found a VSAT satellite system for sale to small ships of about a 100 ft long on the internet. Direc Way Multimedia VSAT direct satellite broadband communication supports the most modern technology of the internet applications. There are many other choices out there. My search brought up over 10,000 sources.

There were hundreds of studies and reports by all kinds of academic and technological branches of International organizations. It quickly became clear that Africa is the most backward place on earth, though they are advanced in many of the countries more than in Belize. The Caribbean may not be advanced, but because of the nature of most of them being small islands, the problems are not so great as in Belize and Guyana which are larger. Morocco recently auctioned off 3 VSAT licenses to the highest bidder. I believe they went for around $4 million a license. There were about 11 bidders.

Belize it is apparent, is hobbled by a poor telecommunications infra-structure. Notwithstanding the propoganda the local people in government trumpet when comparing us to remote Honduras, or someplace worse than Belize. The 300 villages and thousands of farms for the most part still do not have telephone service. Much less electricity in many cases to run a computer.

What comes clear in perusing these various studies on telecommunications around the world, is that Belize is behind. There should be about 4 different, or maybe more, local competitive telephone systems, with regulatory sharing agreements and price sharing for using each other's installations in an overlapping manner. There also should be at the current state of progress, about 100 local ISP services around the nation using the telephone services of the 4 telecommunications suppliers. None of this has been allowed to happen. The studies on African countries, reflect mightily on the problems with Belize, for the most part they are identical.

It is neither lack of human resources, technical expertise, or financial problems holding Belize back in telecommunications. The problems are the same as in many African countries, purely political, regulatory and organizational. Somehow the political party gangs from the port town of Belize City, working in Belmopan have got it in their head, that control is the name of the game, not competition. Regulations should be used, not free market principals. Why they have these ideas I don't know? The only apparent reason is selfish greed and personal gain. Because the current political problems with telecommunications are the result of these. It is the British colonial heritage.

The internet is too important to the nation of Belize, to leave it to Cabinet Ministers, monopolies or pseudo monopolies like connected lawyers with an EPZ. Monopolies are the stranglehold on development in Belize and many African countries. If people were left alone and Belmopan would just ensure an even fair playing field, needed capital investment will quickly flow to take advantage of new technological opportunities. The key is COMPETITION!

At any rate, Glenn Godfrey has a good thing going for him, it will provide some jobs and I hope he doesn't lose his shirt. I just wish, the government would see the way to providing a regulation on internet unlimited service and insist that any part of an EPZ telecommunications package, provides locals with some server space FREE in the amount of 15 megabytes. E-commerce might then effect Belizeans directly instead.

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