By Ray Auxillou
Most of this story is arrived at, by information from lower level customer clerks, so one has to take this information with a grain of salt. This is what we can piece together from the three businesses in competition, closely guarding the trade secrets. The internet MARKET SHARE WAR in Cayo West hills and valleys, is over the rapidly expanding growth, to serve roughly 15,000 current existing homes and businesses with internet ISP services. Growth of new homes has been steady over the past five years and government continues to acquire land for new subdivisions and more and more REALTY offices go into business to serve the construction expansion going on, in the beautiful climate of ETERNAL SPRING, found in the highlands of the Cayo West foothills of the Belize Alps. The DFC is making a mint for the Trinidadian Bank that owns past government housing schemes out here in Cayo West. Houses are regularly being foreclosed, resold and re-occupied to the profit of all concerned. There seems no shortage of customers and incoming settlers?
Currently internet services are being supplied by BTL the major telecommunications provider in the country, that inherited the old colonial copper line system of telephone networks back from colonial days and which they decided to no longer maintain and expand. Satellite internet came in about seven years ago for those with big pocket books, which was originally DIRECWAY, but is now provided by a merger and restructuring with newer Satellite technology called the Hughes 7000 system. This internet provider is USA based and since it operates by satellites owned by US companies high in outer space, most middle and lower class Belizeans do not have the credit card facility and mailing address required in the USA to pay for it. Installers mostly come from either Corozal or Spanish Lookout. SMART the newcomer competitor to the telecommunications business out of Orange Walk have a local office in the twin towns and are selling their version of internet service through a cell phone.
The way these competing internet ISP companies for market share currently operate is via radio waves. BTL has the best operating service, with different bandwidth and speeds advertised up to 2 million bps, or DSL, which local consumers regard as excellent, but vastly overpriced. Some would say price gouging, or a ripoff? The reason they have the best service is because of the fiber optic international cable down on the coast, which allows unlimited speeds and bandwidth, as the cable goes under the Caribbean Sea. In a power play nearly ten years old, BTL paid for and acquired ownership of the international fiber optic NAP and because of political campaign donations, the government incumbent party was never able to nationalize this fiber optic access point for the national good. A political compromise that has thwarted and haunted telecommunications ever since, throughout the country of Belize.
BTL has a transmitting antenna tower in the twin towns, but the signal from this tower by radio waves only covers the small area of flat land, and ridge tops of what is a larger community stretching from Esperanza, through Hillview, Santa Cruz, Cristo Rey, San Antonio Town to the south and out the Western Highway to San Jose Succotz and possibly Benque Viejo. Most wealthy residents opted for the foreign satellite delivery even at slow send back speeds, for better reliability and service. The BTL telephone radio tower system reception being too fickle, even for cell phones, let alone internet service.
Buyers who can afford service are therefore getting the Hughes 7000 satellite system out of a feeling of desperation. Unfortunately, satellite service has its limitations. It is very expensive for the equipment and installation. While the download speeds for browsing the internet are high, the return signal from home or business antenna dish is limited to a low bps rate of less than a million bps. for e-mail and slow internet service it works, but is not as good as the options available, if service was available through the under sea fiber optic cable owned by BTL.
Unfortunately, the BTL radio service is solely line of sight and if you are not on the flat land around the small twin towns center, or on a surrounding ridge top, BTL cell phone and internet service is not available. The line of sight radio signal does not serve out the Western highway communities, nor those going South. Here in Santa Elena Town, Hillview suburb and Santa Cruz houses along the ridge tops can get BTL service with tall special antennas for a base station. But those homes on the lower valley slopes, more than a hundred homes currently in my immediate location and expanding, cannot get the BTL signal at all. The same story is reported by other hill communities. The direct line of sight small millimeter radio waves go over their heads by a couple of hundred feet. Stringing helium balloons hung antenna was considered by homeowner groups as a community effort, but those high voltage three wire lines on BEL poles has killed that idea. One high wind storm accident and people would get killed.
SMART has the same problem as BTL. With the antenna in Spanish Lookout, they serve the exact same restricted small twin towns flatland customer base as BTL in direct competition. Homeowners to the South and West cannot get their SMART service for internet. We in Hillview a suburb of Santa Elena town can get their SMART cell phone service, though we cannot get BTL cell phone service. The cell phone is fickle though and most times one must take the cell phone when it rings in the house and go rushing out into the street, or return the phone call by climbing the ridge a hundred feet higher. The antenna in Spanish Lookout can be seen from the ridge top, but not in the lower suburb of houses expanding down in the valley, or along the slope. The SMART internet service is reported slow and not as good as BTL and this is believed to be, because they don’t have access to the international fiber optic cable on the coast, but we really don’t know why? SMART is working better than BTL for cell phone service.
To really work, the radio cell phone telecommunications systems requires many smaller repeater relay antennas scattered along the ridge tops of the many foothills extending from Esperenza to Benque Viejo and back out to Cristo Rey and San Antonio town. This leaves most homes and businesses, with satellite the only workable option for internet service, out of the USA. This is not really workable for most common people because of equipment and installation cost and the requirement you have banking and credit card facility in the USA to pay for it. Only the most rich, or high turn over businesses can afford internet this way. This leaves an estimated 15,000 homes and businesses throughout the Cayo West district without internet service.
CAYO COM the television cable company may become a new player in this ISP business competition and perhaps even for house based desktop telephones? The girls at CAYO COM office claim that CAYO COM which has run television cable with 550 ohms wire for years now, to all the homes and gives good service most of the time, except when we get torrential rains. The girls at the office say CAYO COM cable tv company will offer internet service over their cable, but they have to replace all their repeater amplifiers and current cable, with either 750 ohm wire capable of internet service, or perhaps a fiber optic cable? The time we were told was two months from now for internet service and the changeover to be completed. I take this forecast with a grain of salt, because they told me the same story four years ago. It is a solution I like though and we here in our location would prefer this solution in the market share war ISP WAR out here, even at slower bps internet service speeds, because of the more justifiable rate structure than currently charged by cell phone companies internet service.
It does seem strange, that a low budget operation like a cable tv company can run cables thrugh the communities in hills and valleys, but the biggest telecommunications provider in the nation, BTL will not invest in the country at all, by stringing their own cable? A decision based on maximizing profits at the lowest investment cost in capital equipment, that is going to lose them serious consumer market share evntually, if not shortly? I’m rooting for the underdog as usual, which is CAYO COM to replace existing cable with fiberoptic cable, that will enable them to register a new telephone company as well, leasing the carrier fiber optic line and with eager outside investment capital, give all our businesses and homes the better quality service that comes with desk top telephone systems, FAX machines and other peripherals the new scattered businesses need in the beautiful hill scenery of Cayo West.
I’m tired of the limits and lack of quality of cell phones. It’s been five years since we were first promised internet in Hillview and we haven’t got it yet.