BTL exclusive license will not be renewed

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 36            September 13, 2001

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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 to Belize.

    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 competition."

    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?
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