At a meeting on
September 4th, Cabinet
decided not to renew an exclusive license awarded to Belize Telecommunications
Limited (BTL) to provide national and international telecommunications services
This announcement comes less than one week
after the Reporter newspaper disclosed Clause 2
of Belize government's telecommunications agreement with BTL which stated, "the
monopoly will be renewed automatically for another five years unless the
minister gives one full year notice in writing." This letter, announcing
cancellation of BTL's monopoly must, in fact, be signed by the Communications
Minister before the 29th of
December, 2001. In a press release issued last week, the government stated it
"will issue a letter of intent to BTL regarding the termination of the license.
This decision was taken to address concerns from the general public regarding
the high cost of telecommunications services. Government is committed to ensure
cheaper utility rates and decided that, to achieve a reduction in telephone
rates, the telecommunication sector must be liberalized so that new entrants
into the sector can be attracted to introduce
In a conversation with the Public Utilities
Commission (PUC), it was learned that they will be involved in the
telecommunications process once it is "deregulated." Apparently, this will be
the case once the BTL contract expires in December 2002. The PUC was not an
active body when the existing contract was signed into effect in 1987.
Furthermore, the representative explained that although government announced
that the existing contract will not be renewed, BTL may still apply for another
telecommunications license if they so choose.
The San Pedro Sun attempted to get a statement regarding
this announcement from BTL's Public Relations Department, but was informed that
"no comments were available from the company at this time." At the same
time, Belize's Director of Telecommunications was out of office, and he was left
a message to kindly return our call.
Questions remain as to what type of free enterprise system will replace this
monopoly, how many telecommunication providers will be allowed to bid for
licenses and if there will be limitations set for these bids. Also, the
million-dollar question: will Belize Telecommunications Limited be allowed to
splinter itself into smaller entities, acquire licenses under different names
and still maintain control over and monopolize our telecommunications?