PUC to hold VOIP Public Forum

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 16, No. 16            April 21, 2006

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The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will hold a public forum on VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) to inform the general public and stakeholders and to receive their views on VOIP. Members of the business community, especially in the tourism industry, have been in an uproar since Belize Telecommunications Limited started to interfere with the use of the cheap telephone services such as Vonage, Skype, Speakeasy, Verizonspeak, Tomatovine and others.

   The forum is scheduled for Wednesday, April 26th, 2006 at the Radisson Fort George Hotel from 9:00 a.m. to 12 noon, under the theme “Opportunities and Threats for VoIP in Belize”. PUC Communications Manager Anne Wade said her office has been inundated with calls, letters and e-mails from people frustrated about the treatment from BTL. “We are expecting a very lively session,” Wade commented about the upcoming forum. She stressed that the PUC is encouraging as many people as possible to participate in the meeting.

   The forum will include presentations on the international perspective and the domestic legal framework. Representatives of government, telephone companies, internet service providers, the business community and consumers will also present. Following the presentations there will be an interactive session between the panel and the audience.

   The Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) is one of many groups who are opposed to the prevention of VoIP services in Belize. “The Board is appalled by the actions of BTL,” said Andrew Godoy, BTIA Director. “We have heard from many of our constituents and this is negatively impacting their business.”

   Tom Vidrine, President of the Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce (ACCC) said he has received over a hundred letters that he plans to hand deliver to the forum. “It (the use of VoIP) is vital to our businesses,” stressed Vidrine. He said he has even heard from potential businesses that may change their plans to invest in Belize if the country allows this practice to continue. “I’ve had so many people say they can’t live here or operate without the ability to affordably make international calls.” Vidrine said he plans to tell the PUC that affordable communications plays a vital role for the growth of Belize. “They are just shooting themselves in the foot,” he stressed.

   Wade said the PUC will record the forum and use the information to determine the best course of action. The PUC regulates telecommunications along with electricity and water. Wade added that the PUC will work quickly after the forum to address the issue.

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