Public Utilities Commission (PUC) traveled to San Pedro last Thursday for
an informal meeting with residents and businesspersons who are
experiencing technical difficulties related to a Belize
Telecommunications Limited (BTL)"switch" mechanism in their phone lines.
Relatively few people attended the very important meeting compared to the
numbers who are heard complaining on a daily basis. Regardless, much
information was collected from the small number gathered in relation to
specific service and technical phone problems. Representing the PUC at
the meeting were Director of Consumer Affairs Donnalyn Myvette, Public
Relations Director Anne Wade and Director of Telecommunications Roberto
Young, a former Executive Director of Network Operations at BTL.
Opening the meeting, Ms. Myvette briefly reviewed the
events that led to the reason for the meeting. She stated that an initial
complaint filed in early February by The San Pedro
Sun was soon followed by two other similar
grievances. She explained that on February
25th, BTL notified the
PUC that the switch was patched, and they would be evaluating the
situation. This evaluation reportedly included testing connections
through random phone calls and analyzing various data. The PUC then
received a formal response from BTL on April
2nd stating that the
issue had been addressed and customers who had issued complaints had
confirmed that everything was "okay". Some disputed this last BTL
statement and one person added that for approximately two days after the
"patch" was installed, the situation improved. Since that time, however,
it appeared that the previous technical difficulties had reappeared,
albeit some with less frequency.
Ms. Myvette then asked those gathered to
relay specific complaints concerning the technical difficulties caused by
the "switch". Some of the Internet usage problems mentioned were: split
lines, slow contact speeds, multiple attempts before Internet connections
occur (and being billed while you try!), lack of a filter for "junk"
mail, slow server speed, (sometimes half of what individual modem speeds
use, or 11-35K versus 56K speeds), and users disconnected while on-line
(sometimes while waiting for long files to download). E-mail woes
included lost mail and mail not being sent or received. During this part
of the discussion, one of the attendees provided E-mail documents that
spanned a ten-day correspondence between a hotel and a potential guest in
the United States. Although the hotel had responded to the client's
request for confirmation, the client never received the e-mail.
Subsequent attempts at communication were also lost or never received.
The hotel received one last communication, an E-mail stating that the
client was canceling the booking because they had received no reply or
confirmation. This particular incident cost the hotel owner $1,500US, but
the individual went on to explain that the loss of business from this one
cancellation trickles down, and many others lose since tourists spend
additional money in restaurants, dive shops, gift shops, etc. Another
attendee pointed out that if this loss of business continues to happen
all over Ambergris Caye, (the number one tourist destination); the entire
country will suffer as well, since tourism generates the most revenue for
Other issues focused on the following
items: automatically receiving voice mail on regular cellular phones
before the call rings, needing to call the same number two or more times
in order to reach the person being called, being disconnected in the
middle of conversations, receiving phone calls for other people in
different districts or cayes whose phone numbers are similar or the same,
and phones unable to process numbers on speed dial because the speed is
Other unrelated complaints dealt with technicians who
are not equipped with the knowledge or ability to fix repairs. It was
mentioned that the government did not seem to be sympathetic to people's
frustration with this telecommunications monopoly. One attendee commented
that perhaps the Government of Belize did not suffer these problems as
they were privileged to be able to use another provider - Intelco!
Another person lamented the fact that consumers "are in reality paying
BTL (exorbitant prices) to ruin their business."
Ms. Myvett then recapped the list of complaints issued
by the group. She stated that, as the regulator, the PUC would pass these
complaints on to the Quality Assurance (QA) representative at BTL. Ms.
Myvette quoted this QA person as saying, "BTL has a strong desire to
address and solve these issues." She then assured the group that change
would be forthcoming and the mere fact that BTL had assigned someone to a
QA position was a step in the right direction. Ms. Myvette advised that,
whenever possible, consumers should back their complaints with tangible
evidence as in the case of the previously mentioned E-mail documents
provided by the hotel owner. She ended the dialogue with the assurance
that she would be in touch in the very near future, to which one person
from the group responded, "If you can get the phones to work correctly."
Any business or individual who was unable
to attend last week's meeting may still make their complaints known by
writing to the PUC at P.O. Box 300, Belize City or by E-mail at