Monday, July 23, 2012
Monday, July 23, 2012
The Prime Minister of The Bahamas Perry Christie addressed the CANTO 28th Annual Conference & Trade Show July 22, 2012.
The telecommunications conference runs 22-25 July and is being held at the Miami Hyatt Regency Hotel under the theme “Accelerating broadband experience in the Caribbean, transforming the way we live.”
Read the Prime Minister’s full keynote speech here:
I am delighted to be here with you today. As you were told, I am serving in my first hundred days in my second non-consecutive term as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of The Bahamas. I also maintain responsibility for relations with the Bahamas Telecommunications Co (BTC), the regulator URCA, and the Telecommunications Sector Policy.
Since I will not be here tomorrow morning for the Ministerial Forum, I thought I should give you an update as well as challenge your thoughts and deliberations.
The advent of telecommunications in The Bahamas was marked by the laying of a telegraph submarine cable between Jupiter Florida and Goodman’s Bay, now known as Cable Beach, Nassau.
This Cable project was completed in 1892 – some 120 years ago – as a joint venture between the Government of The Bahamas and Marconi.
The Government of The Bahamas has been responsible for telecommunications in The Bahamas from 1892 to 2011.
I served as Prime Minister from 2002 to 2007.
When my government came to power, BTC had $4.8 million in the bank.
During my tenure, BTC spent $353 million on capital projects.
These projects included a 2.5G GSM cellular network and a 3G CDMA cellular network.
A national broadband fiber optic submarine cable network connecting fourteen Islands of The Bahamas replacing the microwave radio links that failed chronically.
A DSL ATM high speed Internet platform was deployed. A fiber optic submarine cable to Haiti was laid. It was Haiti’s first and only fiber optic cable to the outside world.
We were well on our way with negotiations to build the first fiber optic submarine cable to Cuba.
When my government came to office in 2002 there were 40,000 Cellular customers in The Bahamas. Five years later there were over 300,000 cellular customers representing over 100 per cent penetration.
Notwithstanding the capital expenditure of over $353 million in five years, when we left office in 2007 BTC’s cash in the bank had grown from US$4.8 million in 2001 to US$135 million in 2007. So, I am acutely aware of what revenues and profits can be generated by ICTs.
Every major island of The Bahamas is connected by a broadband fiber optic submarine cable network.
In addition to the fiber connection to Haiti, The Bahamas has four fiber optic submarine cables connecting it to Florida, namely: The Bahamas 2 built in 1997, ARCOS built in 2001 and two BIXs Cables built by Cable Bahamas.
The Bahamas has over 14 licensed ISPs and three licensed Providers of Telecommunication Services namely: The Bahamas Telecommunications Co (BTC), Cable Bahamas Ltd (CBL) and IP Solutions IPSi.
Today I have noted your
VISION STATEMENT: “To become the leading authority in shaping information and communication in the Caribbean.” And your
MISSION STATEMENT: “To facilitate the development of ICT solutions for the benefit of members and other stakeholders in the Caribbean region.”
And your Theme for this conference: “Accelerating Broadband Experience in the Caribbean Transforming the way we live.”
I have also noted with interest that you have stated that “CANTO is poised to take the regional ICT to the next level and we want you to be a part of it!”
Let me say for the record, that The Bahamas will support CANTO in those efforts to take the region to the next level and secondly that The Bahamas has always supported CANTO starting with the fact that it was a founding member of CANTO.
The Bahamas is second only to Curacao in the hosting of CANTO’s annual conferences and trade shows; The Bahamas hosted in 2008, 2003, 1995 etc.
In addition to producing a number of CANTO directors, The Bahamas has the distinction of having had two chairmen of CANTO; Robert I Bartlett whom you honoured posthumously in 2003 and Leon R Williams who is chairing this session and who you have made an honorary member.
So, I want to take some time here today to talk to you as a family member.
There are a number of facts and challenges in the region that must be addressed. I would like to list a few as I see them.
Fact and challenge: For most of the member countries of CANTO, the telecommunications infrastructure is in private hands with the exception of maybe the countries of Belize, Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles, and Antigua. There is some government partial ownership in some countries like Trinidad & Tobago and The Bahamas.
Fact and challenge: As you have come to realize by changing your name from the Caribbean Association Of National Telecommunications Organizations to just CANTO, that there are few national government owned telecommunications organizations today in the Region.
Fact and challenge: In 2000, 189 nations or 193 members of the United Nations plus at least 23 international organizations made a promise to free people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations. This pledge turned into the eight millennium development goals.
Goal number 8F is of particular interest to us here today “In cooperation with the private sector, make available benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications. Demand grows for information and communications technology.”
A time frame has been set to achieve these goals by the year 2015. But the United Nations suggests that in regions like the Caribbean the “digital divide” is growing.
Fact and challenge: According to a May 2012 report of the Inter American Development Bank “At present, however, broadband is less accessible, more expensive and less used in most Latin American and Caribbean countries than the average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).”
Although prices have been falling in recent years, the IDB said cost is another major hurdle.
In some cases, the IDB said high trade tariffs make imported computers, smartphones and wireless devices more expensive for businesses and individuals, limiting the expansion of broadband usage.
The IDB said the digital divide is “even starker” among and within countries of the region, particularly when comparing coverage in urban and rural areas.
I would like to quote the Honourable Minister from Antigua Dr Mansoor who told you a few years ago that “the poor in our countries are paying more for less.” That is, for internet services they are paying more than Developed Countries for slower speeds.
Fact and challenge: While Cellular penetration in most Caribbean countries is well over 100 per cent penetration and some markets are approaching saturation, broadband penetration according to the IDB is below thirty per cent penetration.
Fact and challenge: I know that the Caribbean Nationals sitting here today must be uncomfortable when they have to implement decisions either through rates and tariffs or deployment of infrastructure that marginalized their fellow citizens along lines of telecommunications that is between the “connected elite” and the “have nots.”
As Prime Minister, I was once asked to approve a fiber optic submarine cable that did not include some of the islands.
I asked BTC if the islands that were left out would be able to get GSM, Blackberry and high speed Internet services like the city folks in Nassau?
They told me no. I asked why they were not included. BTC’s reply was it was not a financially viable project.
I told them I was Prime Minister of all of The Bahamas not part of The Bahamas and every citizen that I am Prime Minister of must have equal access to this wonderful thing called the internet at affordable prices.
I could do that because the citizens of The Bahamas owned BTC at the time. Since then, as you know, the majority stake in BTC was sold by my predecessors to Cable and Wireless, and with it, executive control over BTC as well. My government, however, was elected with a mandate to take all lawful means to re-capture majority ownership of BTC and I expect that discussions towards that objective will soon begin.
I know that the Caribbean nationals sitting here today are uncomfortable that the countries in the regions cannot grow their economies by 3.6 per cent to 4 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) as the ITU studies revealed. And it is not because of the lack of skilled labour and talent in the Caribbean but because of the lack of affordable, reliable high speed Internet.
Broadband is referred to as the crude oil of the 21st Century.
I am sure that the Caribbean executives in this room have from time to time imagined how the economies of the region would change if we could only compete with India for call centres for Fortune 500 companies creating thousands of jobs in our island nations.
I know that the Caribbean nationals sitting in this room have a vision for the diversification of our economies from tourism, agriculture and finance to a point where we can be a part of the 21st Century supply chain, like Singapore, South Korea, India, Philippines and Japan, with plants to assemble printed circuit board, computers cellular phones creating thousands of jobs for our citizens.
But this dream can only come true with affordable, reliable broadband deployment.
When I read a report for example that stated in June 2011 Apple had more cash in the bank than the United States Government. When I hear a report that Apple made $1 billion per week during December 2011 and that Apple in June 2012 has $110 billion in cash in the bank and that the iPhone itself is bigger than Microsoft Corp or that CISCO had more than $40 billion in cash I just say “WOW.”
How will our little countries keep pace with the likes of Australia, which initiated a US$33 billion national broadband network? Or the US who’s estimates by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) vary from $27 billion to as high as $350 billion to build a network that that would not be built by private investors alone.
And so I challenge you in this conference to tell us the policy makers what laws we must enact, what policies and rules we must enforce to:
- Make broadband ubiquitous.
- To make broadband affordable for the everyday citizen.
- To make broadband reliable to all citizens.
Tell us policy makers what we need to do to protect our national, sovereign borders and I mean our virtual borders from industrial sabotage and cyber terrorism.
And tell us what we need to do to ensure that there is equity in compensation and that compensation is attached to the office and not the person. In that way a Caribbean nationals upon being promoted to Executive Management receives the same compensation and perks as that of his Expat colleagues. The responsibility of running the Company doesn’t change. The challenges do not change.
Impress on the owners, chairmen and Directors of your companies to commit to reducing the “digital divide.”
In its conclusions, the IDB report states: “The challenges of developing broadband are so formidable that the private sector will not be able to face them alone. Indeed, governments will have to join with the private sector and to provide leadership in initiatives to reduce not only the digital divide but also to use digital means to narrow the social divide.”
And so, while the challenges seem insurmountable and the mountain seems hard to climb I say here this afternoon that knowing the indomitable spirit of Caribbean nationals I challenge CANTO to make its promise of “CANTO is poised to take the regional ICT to the next level” an obligation and a reality and not just “yes we can.” But “Just do it.”
I close with words of Honourable Dr. Jerald Thompson of St Vincent and the Grenadines that “ICTs will do for the Caribbean what politics failed to do.”
God bless you all in your endeavors throughout the course of this week of conferences.