Apparently, BTL is bragging about their ability to block VoIP at their international IP gateway and it looks like the Bahamas will soon implement similar blocks.
Decrying the new technology that allows telecommunications users to bypass the network of The Bahamas Telecommunications Company [BTC], the minister responsible for the company Bradley Roberts said BTC views the operators of these services as "parasitic".
He was outlining the two-pronged approach that the company may utilize to deal with what an IDB report said is leading to a devaluation of the company.
That report said individuals are illegally using new technology like Voice Over Internet Protocol [VoIP] services offered by Vonage and Skype to make long distance calls and are undaunted by the threat of huge fines.
Mr. Roberts, during his contribution to the budget debate in the House of Assembly on Monday, was critical of the facilitators of these services.
"The operators pay no license fees or taxes to the government, own no properties in the country, rent no facilities, have no business license, provide no jobs in the country, leave no money to circulate in the country because payments are made via credit cards," he said.
"They contribute no infrastructure in the country, contribute no funds to the universal service obligation and pay absolutely nothing to get their network connected in Belize, The Bahamas and the Caribbean."
He said they are considered freeloaders because incumbent operators whose networks they use free of charge are forced to upgrade their data networks in order to handle the additional voice traffic with no contribution from them.
Network bypass is not unique to BTC, the minister conceded. Cable & Wireless, he said, is addressing the problem through an alliance with Net2Phone and by building a Next Generation Network.
Additionally, he referred to another method that was implemented by the Belize Telecommunications Limited which blocked Vonage and Skype at their gateway since it owns the international pipe and all other licensed operators buy capacity from the company. The Belize Public Utility Commission then held a public forum on the matter.
Some observers estimate that up to 70 percent of outgoing international traffic bypasses BTC's network with 30 to 40 percent of business subscribers using VoIP alternatives, according to an IDB report on Promoting Investment In Information and Communication Technologies in the Caribbean.
It added that the incentives to bypass BTC's public network are so overwhelming that individuals and small enterprises are not intimidated by the threat of huge fines for defying the law.
Underthe Telecommunications Act, any person who uses VoIP or provides the service without approval from the Public Utilities Commission risks a $300,000 fine.
BTC plans to introduce a new slate of products and services within the next few months including its own VoIP and the Next Generation Network. The introduction of the network is intended to create new revenue streams, reduce cost and maintenance and provide the new technologies like IPTV. The project is estimated to cost $53 million over the next two years with $40 million to be spent in 2006.
In the wake of a suggestion contained in the IDB report for the government and BTC to embrace new technologies, Minister Roberts said the company has always done this.
"The government is aware of the threats to the devaluation of BTC and the attack on its revenue streams from parasitic operators," he said.
"But the government is also aware that if the Bahamas is to stay competitive in the tourism and financial sectors, it must continue to build a modern robust telecommunications infrastructure."
He added: "Unfortunately it has to be built without the help of the parasites that use the same infrastructure to make the enormous profits without contributing a dime to its deployment and amidst criticisms of those who use the services."
Mr. Roberts also referred to the telecommunications arm of the United Nations naming The Bahamas number one in the Caribbean and number three in the Americas for digital interconnectivity.
The IDB report prepared by Peter Stern of PS Associates also noted that the high cost of telecommunications is also discouraging the export of services for which The Bahamas would otherwise have certain comparative advantages.
For example, it noted, one of the reasons conference organizers are reluctant to choose The Bahamas is because of the very expensive prices for making international calls and roaming on The Bahamas' only cellular mobile network.
But Minister Roberts explained that BTC's roaming rates are guided by the rates of foreign carriers as a part of a bilateral agreement between individual carriers. The providers of the networks that BTC customers use like Cingular, Vodaphone and T Mobile set their own tariffs and rates.
"BTC on its own initiative is working with its partners to see how bets they can find the most cost effective tariff for their roaming customers," he said. "BTC presently has 48 roaming partners and is in the process of negotiations to reduce the roaming rates."