BTL Blocking Internet Phones

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 16, No. 13            March 30, 2006

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Outrage is pouring over the Internet lines of Belize as apparently Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) has started to limit or block the use of Internet telephone services such as Vonage and Skype. These services use technology called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) that allows users to make free or inexpensive telephone calls to virtually anywhere in the world. The technology is based on high speed internet connections such as DSL.

   BTL representatives were unresponsive after repeated calls to their main office. However, calls to several San Pedro computer sales and repair services say the disruption is real and dramatically impacting many local businesses. “I would say at least 30 businesses are negatively impacted by this,” said one computer sales and repair business owner. Said business person had promoted the Vonage Internet Phone service to many customers, ranging from the small operators to large resort owners. “Many of my customers just wanted a way to communicate with their families, and BTL is just too expensive for them.”

   Another computer repairman who did not want to be identified explained the current problem. He said that BTL is not technically blocking the use of Vonage, “but creating such a traffic jam, no one can get through.” He said when calling his mother in the US, her phone would ring with no one at the other end and all he would hear is a strange busy signal. He said it would sometimes take 20 attempts to finally get through.

   Sources say that expensive hardware and software has been installed by BTL to disrupt the VOIP services. Those sources say there are still some services that are working.

   One complaint is that BTL already charges extremely high prices for relatively slow DSL and many customers complain because the VOIP telephones are already using BTL’s DSL service. Some former BTL customers are resorting to switching to satellite internet as a reliable source for high speed internet, but often at a high price. Some BTL customers have said their monthly phone bill may be as high as $3,000 per month because of the international calling charges from BTL.

   According to Belize City News reports, the Public Utilities Commission will hold a hearing on the subject on April 26th. Proponents of the bargain phone systems are hoping for a large turnout to overcome BTL’s expected argument that high international rates are necessary to subsidize low cost local calls and the extension of service to unprofitable rural communities.
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