And while Mexico and Belize foster better trade ties, the PUC wants to create an ICT environment where internet based companies can thrive in Belize.
To help with that, they invited 2 specialists who came to Belize to introduce a new way of managing bandwidth, so that the Internet Service Providers can capitalize at home.
Those specialists hosted a forum in conjunction with the PUC where they invited all the major stakeholders to participate.
We got a chance to speak with the facilitators, and they explained how this new bandwidth management system should work if they embrace it:
Bill Woodcock - Research Director, Packet Clearing House
"We're a not for profit organization that has existed over the last 20 years to promote the development of the interent globally. Together with the Utilities commission here we're doing a one day workshop on the development of internet exchange points which are the places where interent bandwith comes from. Right now in Belize most internet bandwith comes from Miami or Washington D.C or New York and people in Belize are paying to move that traffic in both directions to and from Miami. What we would rather see is that there would be a place here in Belize where Internet Bandwith is produced so that you can have faster, cheaper bandiwth here in Belize."
"Tell us how that would come about and what would be the benefits to the end user/the customer?"
"The easiest analogy is with agriculture, you wouldn't want to bringing in all of your corn, wheat and tomatoes from New York - it wouldn't make sense, you have farms here, you grow produce here and use it locally. Exactly the same thing is true of the internet. There is no reason to be bringing in Internet to Belize from the United States, it's much more efficient to creating that Internet Bandwidth right here in Belize. So if Internet Providers in Belize are able to get bandwidth from a local source, the distance that they have to carry it is so much shorter that the speed that they can do that at is much higher for the same price or a lower price. So by creating a local source for Internet Bandwidth, you can get bandwidth in here faster at a lower cost and that lower cost - some of that translates into lower prices for consumers and some of it translates into a higher re-investment industry here in Belize which means that the rate of improvement should increase; there should be an acceleration in the improvement and development of the industry here as well."
"Does Belize have the capacity to generate this bandwidth as you've described it?"
"Yes, absolutely there are about 350 Internet exchange points already - many of them in much smaller or poorer than Belize. The cost of setting up an Internet Exchange Point - 90% of exchange point get set up for somewhere between $4 - $40,000. This is not a huge investment and almost without exception that investment repays itself within a matter of a few days."
But as we showed you weeks ago, the latest studies show that Belize’s internet is among the slowest, most expensive in the region.
BTL has stated clearly that they’ve stepped up access by cutting their prices for broadband access by half, doubled their max bandwidth, and they’ve launched 4G.
Today, we got a chance to speak with one of the facilitators, and he spoke frankly about what customers should expect from their ISP’s.
Bevil Wooding - Internet Strategist, Packet Clearing House
"A lot of times people simply do not know what they could or should expect from their service providers and that leads to an uneven and unhealthy scenario that providers do things in the market place without being contested and without being debated by consumers. What we try to do is educate governments, policy makers, regulators and the general public in terms of what should you really be expecting from your Internet service provider. Should your internet be that expensive? Should it be that slow? Should it be that inaccessible? Or are there better ways using other countries and other jurisdictions that can allow for you to see an improvement in speed, a reduction in cost or an increase in quality and services provided. That's a very important part of how you bring pressure upon service providers - particularly in markets where you don't have the healthiest dimension of competition. Last week there was a release of a Caribbean survey on the state of internet pricing and internet penetration in the Caribbean...and Belize...it hurt my heart. Because it shouldn't have to be so and those figures helped in terms of increasing the amount of people who are aware that there is a problem and who want to see a solution. This symposium today is part of that solution, bringing the stakeholders together, the ISP's, the PUC, the government officials, the schools, the business community - to talk about what's happening here, why are we last? Should we be last? Is there something we can do? We're hoping that inside of the conversation today we can get answers. The rates that have been offered - while there was a celebration, good celebration of a 50% reduction it really wasn't really a cause for applause because you still don't have the kinds of speeds at the kinds of prices that most other countries enjoy. So we want to see a continued improvement in that reduction of cost, increase of available bandwidth to consumers and the releasing of the entrepreneurial spirit so people can start building real business on top of a real internet in Belize."
Wooding also told us that from his studies, the more affordable telecommunications companies make internet in other countries, the larger their revenues become because more consumers buy in.
We contacted the representative who attended the forum on behalf of BTL, who told us that they will discuss the new bandwidth management system internally before they make a statement.