BTL monopoly ends - starts 2003
with no competition!
by Adele Ramos
BELIZE CITY, Fri. Dec. 27, 2002
The 15-year monopoly license for the Belize
Telecommunications Limited (BTL) officially expires this
weekend - on Sunday, December 29, 2002. However, BTL
will have about three more months without competition, as
International Telecommunications Limited (Intelco), the new
company that was to enter a liberalized market on January
1, 2003, has announced that it will not be able to do so - at
least not yet.
In a press conference on Friday, December 20, 2002,
Intelco's CEO, Juan McKenzie, announced to the media
that Intelco, which received its official license on December
12, 2002, has decided to wait until it is able to put in place
a totally wireless network. The system is to be supported
initially by up to 43 towers that would cover 80% of the
McKenzie, who now owns 10% of Intelco, explained that the company's delay resulted
from problems with providers and financiers. But he asserted that the company is
"financially stable" and that "money is not a problem."
Another Intelco shareholder, Glenn Godfrey, formerly told Amandala that Intelco had in
November already invested US$35 million, and will have invested US$55 million at the
point of launching.
McKenzie last Friday boasted that Intelco can now "start from zero, with the latest
technology at the best cost."
McKenzie said that the company, now licensed to provide general and cellular services,
decided against putting up its telecommunications system before it was able to deliver
what the company had long ago promised to Belizeans, anxious for a change on the
market: the "right quality" of service at the "right cost."
Nine months ago, when Intelco began to work towards obtaining its formal license, the
company began with a US$28.5 million investment, and has since been contracted by
what was previously BTL's biggest customer - the Government of Belize (GOB).
On September 25, 2001, the two entered into a 15-year exclusive contract, and Intelco
is now providing Government with telephone and Internet services. Under the contract,
Government's bill is not to exceed 90% of what it paid on average to BTL.
Under the arrangement between Intelco and GOB, the parties have also jointly embarked
on the Internet for Schools program, under which Intelco is to install a wireless
broadband network to 5,000 computers in various schools and libraries countrywide.
As that project continues, Intelco will be preparing to tap into the rest of the local
market. While BTL two weeks ago launched its highly touted DigiCell 1900 MHz, Intelco
has announced plans to launch "Infinitum" - its GSM/GPRS 1900 MHz network which it
is acquiring through French supplier Alcatel, a lead international supplier.
"The competition [BTL] is offering a combination of 50 peak-time minutes and 100
off-peak minutes for $50 per month. Intelco will provide more than three times this
amount of minutes usable any time of the day or night for the same price, $50 per
"Intelco's system will offer more value added services at more attractive rates," stated a
press release from Intelco, dated Thursday, December 19, 2002.
But McKenzie said he could not yet say exactly what Intelco services would cost
consumers. This, he said, still has to be finalized.
The company does not want to announce prices yet, until it is resolved; and they don't
want to promise what they cannot deliver, McKenzie cautiously added.
Meanwhile, he promised that Intelco is coming with new incentives, including "money
back" promotions and the opportunity to "roll over" minutes for a period of time.
McKenzie also promised that Intelco would work to reduce the delay - currently
anticipated at three to four months.
He added: "Even if we delay, we're going to have competition in this country.
"We're doing it because this country needs a next telecomm service and people have to
see the difference, and that will help a lot of people to develop a different way of doing
business, and the concept of doing business in the country will change."
The company's press release further said that, "Intelco remains committed to providing
quality, high speed and affordable telecommunications services to Belizeans so that the
country can remain competitive in the new global e-economy."
In a recently released brochure, Intelco said that come 2003, customers could look
forward to local residential services, local long distance, international long distance,
corporate services, digital cellular, high-speed Internet access, wireless Internet access,
and value added services such as SMS, voice mail, international roaming and 3-way
conference calls. Other services will include high tech novelties such as "follow me" -
which McKenzie described as an integrated service that would allow a caller to be able
to contact a receiver on a home phone, laptop or cell phone by just dialing one number.
Asked just who would be able to afford these new services Intelco is promising,
McKenzie said that the full spectrum of customers would, as they are starting with even
basic telephone services.
In the meantime, McKenzie said that he is not telling customers to just wait around, but
to "get creative."