|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 3, 2008
July 3, 2008
By generally accepted standards of measurement, telecommunications in The Bahamas has obtained high levels of development and penetration. The country boasts fibre-optic connectivity to all of the major islands of the archipelago, over 60 per cent of homes have land line telephone connection and penetration of broadband Internet is estimated at nearly 40 per cent. There are over 260,000 active cellular accounts for a population of some 330,000.
To continue this progression, The Bahamas is now in the process of reshaping the telecoms sector in order to keep pace with the dynamics of the international marketplace and open the sector up to increased competition. To this end, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham in March this year re-established The Committee for the Privatization of The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) Ltd, which includes representatives of the industry as well as key members of the wider business community. The Committee has been tasked by the Prime Minister with making recommendations to the Cabinet of The Bahamas for the successful completion of the privatization of BTC within a reasonably short time frame.
The Committee has commenced work on the privatization process and has committed to consultation with the company’s unions on matters of relevance as the privatization process progresses.
There are at least two compelling “givens” that make this reshaping of The Bahamas telecoms sector a matter of priority.
Firstly, the rapid pace of technological change in the industry worldwide, which has led to the convergence, and far more effective and efficient delivery of the industry’s principal services, ie land-based and cellular telephony, cable television and Internet services.
And secondly, the services-based character of the Bahamian economy, and its important reliance on tourism and financial services. To maintain and increase the performance of these critical industries, The Bahamas will be required to match the offerings of both the developed economies (to whom we “export” these services) and that of our competitors in the sector.
While not always well appreciated in The Bahamas, the country’s main opportunity to continue to develop its economy effectively depends largely on its information infrastructure. Bahamian policy makers and the regulator must determine how competition will take shape.
To assure the highest levels of telecommunications services and penetration moving forward, the policy objectives must be shaped to encourage competition in all sub-sectors of the telecoms marketplace. The policy instruments must ensure that while the telecoms regulator develops the capacity to monitor the marketplace and promptly address abuse and predation, it also has to maintain the requisite high level of understanding of the modern telecoms marketplace so that its management of the sector does not frustrate competition and growth.
Bahamian policy makers should take comfort in the strong evidence, within the Caribbean and elsewhere, that opening of the sector to private and external participators will bring significant amounts of capital and much needed innovation.
Julian Francis is chairman of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company and chairman of the wealth management firm, Providence Advisors. After graduating from New York University (BSc, special honours and MBA finance), he served as an executive with Banque de la Société Financiere Européenne in Paris from 1980 to 1992. He became deputy governor of The Central Bank of The Bahamas in 1993 and served as governor from 1997 to 2005.