The Caribbean has had some semblance of publicly available Internet service for about two decades, but in recent times it has become a key platform for the delivery of a broad range of telecoms and computing services and applications. Critical considerations when assessing the Internetís effectiveness as a medium of connectivity are transmission speeds and the prices charged for its use. This snapshot examines those two factors across the English-speaking Caribbean, since they speak to the regionís ability to harness the potential of the Internet and to create knowledge-based societies.
Data for this review was collected from the websites of widely used Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the region. At least two ISPs were examined in each country where present (Table 1), and the exercise was limited to non-dialup Internet services and to service plans for domestic/residential customers. The offerings from the ISPs varied drastically in terms of transmission speeds, hence the exercise was limited to identifying (per country):
Table 1: List of ISPs included in exercise
- the lowest download speed available and the corresponding monthly rate
- the highest download speed available and the corresponding monthly rate
- the monthly rate for a 2 Mbps (Megabits per second) service plan.
It is emphasised that the review focused on the monthly rates payable for specified Internet plans only. The exercise excluded initial subscription and activation fees, as well as any additional monthly service charges that might be payable, but included sales taxes (GST, VAT, GCT, etc) when applicable. The rates were converted from the local currency to United States Dollars (USD) using current commercial exchange rates.
Under International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standards, between 1.5 and 2 Mbps is considered the threshold speed for classifying an Internet service as broadband. Hence 2 Mbps has been used as a baseline reference to compare rates across the countries under review.
As reflected in the Table 2 below, the minimum download speeds offered in most countries is 1 Mbps, with the exception of Belize, Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago, where speeds of 256 kbps and lower are still available. Interestingly, the price for the service plan with the lowest download speed in Guyana (1 Mbps) is over eight times that of the most expensive plan in the rest of the sample group (Belize, USD 436.05 for a 4 Mbps package).
||Lowest d/l speed
||Highest d/l speed
|Antigua & Barbuda
|St. Kitts & Nevis
|St. Vincent & the Grenadines
|Trinidad & Tobago
|Turks & Caicos Is.
Table 2: Monthly pricing in US Dollars for select Internet plans based on download speed (Source: ISP websites)
On the other hand, just under half of the sample group offered plans with 8 Mbps as the highest download speed. In Jamaica and Trinidad, plans with download speeds of 100 Mbps are available at prices lower than what has been specified in other countries for less than a tenth of that speed. Attention is again drawn to the exorbitant monthly fee charged in Guyana for a 4.5 Mbps connection. This price would be well beyond the reach of most domestic customers and businesses.
In all countries except Guyana and Belize, the monthly rate for a 2 Mbps Internet plan is under USD 85.00, and is even under USD 30.00 in Grenada. Again, excluding Belize and Guyana, the average monthly rate for a 2 Mbps Internet plan is approximately USD 55.30, and when weighted by population, the average monthly rate drops to around USD 38.00.
However, when compared with the monthly rates payable in developing countries, the region does not fare as favourably. The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published the average monthly subscription prices for broadband connections with advertised download speeds below 2.5 Mbps as at September 2010, for some of its member countries. Excluding line charges, the median prices are shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Price for Internet plans with under 2.5 Mbps download speed in select OECD countries (Source: OECD)
Note is made that the OECD stipulated a basket of Internet plans with under 2.5 Mbps download speed, hence a broad range of plans that meet that criterion would have been accepted. However, since the term “broadband” was specified, it is unlikely that the advertised download speeds in the selected countries would be significantly lower than 2.5 Mbps.
Notwithstanding, when the average monthly rate for 2 Mbps Internet service in the Caribbean is compared with that for the OECD group, the former is considerably higher. However, the average monthly rate weighted by population is marginally better, as it is lower than the monthly rates payable in Australia and Norway, and on par with median rates in Spain
In summary, pricing for Internet service varies drastically across the region. However, more sobering is the fact that despite the strides made through liberalisation and competition, Caribbean Internet rates still might not be comparable with those charged in developed countries. As a result, we might still not be well positioned to fully harness the potential of the Internet, to create knowledge-based societies, and even to increase our international competitiveness.