The Belize Telecom Monopoly – Belize’s Berlin Wall Published By Jorge Varela

In a blatant disregard for economic development and signifying what possibly may be a huge disconnect with the people and businesses of Belize, Prime Minister Barrow, if the reports of the Amandala newspaper is to be believed, has stated that “Belizeans would be amenable to keeping VOIP blocked if they know they will share in profits.”

The case for the ending of the telecom monopoly in Belize has been made so often that the Government cannot feign ignorance. The stronghold that BTL has enjoyed over the country has enriched shareholders most of whom are foreigners. These dividends have exited the country in suitcases at the expense of the citizens who are subjected to phone services that are one of the highest in the world relative to income. Ending the monopoly will allow telecom services based on VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) technology such as those offered by Skype or GoogleVoice to proliferate thereby making communications more accessible to the poor.

Yet Mr. Barrow says the people would rather pay higher rates with the promise of profits – profits that have historically left the country and which will continue to leave. Profits that should they be deposited in GOB coffers would disappear into programs that continue to oppress Belize’s development.

Business growth, which depends on communications, is being stifled by the current exorbitant telecom rates. Economic development depends on a reliable and affordable infrastructure in order to occur. High telecom rates that restrict access to the internet and to international markets have retarded business development in Belize. Historical data from other countries which have moved to a competitive model of telecommunications services have shown that economic development has resulted from a move to free markets. It is quite simple for GOB to see the benefits yet they continue to ignore them. Why has every administration in Belize balked at the breakup of the monopoly? Why can’t the politicians see that the monopoly is suffocating businesses and sucking the few extra dollars from Belizeans pockets? Is there some hidden agenda?

Is the Prime Minister so disconnected that he fails to see that which is staring him in the face? In the article in the Amandala Mr. Dylan Reneau, President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize pointed out that “I could make a call to the US for a penny a minute and even for free if I can link to someone who has SKYPE.” Belizeans like the Prime Minister’s son, many public officers, and even Ministers break the law every day as they communicate using workarounds that are available only to the privileged few who can afford computers and extra devices. Is the hidden agenda then that like most other laws in the country, the privileged few who can afford to subvert the law do so while the poor are subjected to being oppressed?

What the Government of Belize has done by continuing to support the telecom monopoly is similar to the building of the Berlin wall which contributed radically to the stunted development of the East by ending communications with the West. If Belize is to evolve it needs to be connected to the Western world. The walls that restrict Belize have existed for too long. To paraphrase former President Ronald Reagan: Mr. Prime Minister, elected officials – tear that wall down!