Internet rates have gone down recently and while some people are counting the extra change in their pockets, there really should be quite a few dollars more that internet subscribers could save. Belize has the highest internet rates as well as the slowest bandwidth in CARICOM. How bad is it? Well, a survey of the Caribbean to gauge the average price of internet costs completely rejected the idea of including Belize, since the figures were absolutely ridiculously high. And that is why an internet strategist and the research director for Packet Clearing House held a forum today with internet providers; including Speednet and Telemedia. The focus of the forum centered on awareness of what Belize should be doing to manage internet resources and to bring into fruition online opportunities. According to the Packet Clearing House representatives, productivity and revenue could be increased if the cost would simply go down.

Jose Sanchez

“You mentioned a survey that Belize was not included in that because you didn’t want to skew the numbers. What was that?”

Bevil Wooding, Internet Strategist, Packet Clearing House

Bevil Wooding

“That was a Caribbean survey on the state of internet pricing and broadband availability for the Caribbean countries. One particular study in that survey looked at the issue of average cost of internet access for a two megabyte connection. The cost of that two megabyte connection was so high in Belize that to include it in the rest of the region’s results would have caused a larger average than was actually reasonable. And so the survey developers felt that it was more appropriate to exclude Belize and give a more accurate sense of what the rest of the region is paying. Now that is not a good thing. That’s speaks to the extent that Belize has not been able to appropriately addressed the issue of cost of internet service and availability of high broadband internet service and those are some of the issues that we want to address.”

Bill Woodcock, Research Director, Packet Clearing House

“I believe the finding of the survey was that a two megabit internet service that cost as little as one and a half percent of someone’s monthly income in other countries in the Caribbean cost more than thirty percent of monthly income of someone in Belize.”

Jose Sanchez

“And what are the opportunities and what things need to be in place?”

Bill Woodcock

Bill Woodcock

“So what this workshop is about is the formation of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) which are the places where internet bandwidths come from. Internet bandwidths come from IXPs to people who use it by internet service providers. So right now, most of the bandwidth that is being consumed in Belize is being produced in Miami or Washington DC or New York. And people in Belize are having to pay to move that bandwidth back and forth. It is in the same way if you had to pay to move corn from Washington DC to here before you could eat it. It would be very expensive and it would not be very widely available. It doesn’t make sense to do it; it makes much more sense to have farms here producing corn here. Or in the internet context, have internet exchange points here producing bandwidth locally.”

 

Jose Sanchez

“Our two main providers, SMART and Telemedia, have you spoken to any of them regarding the cost or moving the internet exchange?”

Bevil Wooding

“Yes, this is not the first forum that we’ve had on this subject. The Caribbean Telecommunications Union has been engaging both the government and the providers to bring awareness of international best practice and to bring awareness of some of the strategies that can be employed in Belize. And it is the issue of cost and the issue of available bandwidth. So yes the communication has happened, but what has not happened is a speedy response. And so that is what we are hoping this wider discussion will achieve today and onward; that you have more people understanding what is at stake and more importantly what can be done to address the issue. Until the customers, until the general public, until the stakeholders make an issue of it, you are not going to have the incentive as a commercial entity to change the status quo and that is what we want to see.”

Jose Sanchez

“What’s the average price in the Caribbean versus Belize?”

Bevil Wooding

“That depends on the amount of bandwidth that you are looking at. With the two megs, the average price is around, about twenty U.S. or thereabouts. I think in Belize that two meg price is somewhere in the region of a hundred and fifty U.S.—I could be off by a couple dollars or so—but that generally is the spread between what people are paying. I have for example at home, a twenty meg connection to my home that my children enjoy and that I enjoy. You are laughing, but that is standard for me and I am paying somewhere around sixty U.S. for it. And this is typical; Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados. And the basic position is that everyone should enjoy that; it shouldn’t be an exclusive treat for nationals in other Caribbean territories. The whole Caribbean should be seeing rates that are more in line with international practice and international pricing. What we are hoping to come out of this is that people would understand that it is possible in Belize.”

 

The Packet Clearing House representatives were in Belize at the invitation of the Public Utilities Commission. News Five requested an interview with Telemedia’s Chief Operations Officer, Karen Bevans, who attended the forum, but she was unable to comment. 

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