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Jamaica ready to soar - Strong economic signals entice Digicel to spend more than J$1B to improve its offerings

Published:Sunday | November 8, 2015 | 11:00 AMArthur Hall
O'Brien

Upbeat about Jamaica's prospects, the Digicel Group is splashing out more than US$100 million to take fibre to the houses of Jamaicans.

Dubbed 'Digicel Play', the 'Fibre to the Home Network' is being touted as giving Jamaicans Internet at the speed of light - upload of up to 100 MB per second, download of up to 200 MB per second - with the fastest, most reliable and consistent speeds.

According to chairman of the Digicel Group, Denis O'Brien, the company is willing to spend the cash to improve its offering to Jamaicans, as he is confident that the economy is on the right track and poised to enjoy strong growth if the current programmes are maintained.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Gleaner, O'Brien said changes in the last two years have put the economy in a position where international investors are viewing Jamaica favourably and there is a growing level of confidence locally.

According to O'Brien, whichever party forms the government after the next general election will have a duty to continue on this track.

"I think both political parties have a major role in continuing this, whoever wins the next election ... to keep on that track is a very important thing for the country," said O'Brien.

He argued that foreign investors are gung-ho over Jamaica as they are satisfied with the economic direction, and this could lead to growth spurt even though many Jamaicans are yet to benefit.

"What I see now is that Jamaica, for the first time, is on the cusp of becoming a high-growth economy and has a real grasp on its finances, but that is against the backdrop that the ordinary man on the street has really suffered in terms of money in his pocket, higher taxes ... and there have been cuts in expenditure left, right and centre.

"So the ordinary man on the street can't see that, but I see that this is the best example in the whole of the Caribbean, and probably the region, on fiscal reform. Probably other arms of the Government need reforming but the core purse of the State is being properly controlled now," O'Brien told The Sunday Gleaner.

 

PROJECTED ONE PER CENT GROWTH

 

He said the projected growth of one per cent could be higher if Jamaica sticks to its present path.

"I think if the country sticks to this plan, foreign investors will say, 'Hey, now Jamaica is a place we can invest in safely, where you won't have massive depreciation in the value of your assets, and it's a high-growth economy'," said O'Brien.

According to O'Brien, the upward movement in the value of the stock exchange is an indication that an improvement in the economy is taking place.

"And I get a sense ... that there is much more optimism in terms of employment, more optimism in terms of investment, and I see things around the city where people are investing in their business ... and people are just talking about Jamaica as an investment location."

O'Brien said Digicel is upbeat and ready to go, and will be "doubling up on Jamaica and rolling the wheel".

 

NEW TEAM

 

"We are putting another significant wave into investment beyond mobile, and there is no country in the world where they are doing fibre to the home the way we are doing it now," said O'Brien as he pointed to the company's plan to invest millions of dollars in broadband and television services.

"We have a whole new team in the cable area, probably 400 or 500 people ... (and) we have carved out a whole other side of a floor for more customer agents and business-processing people."

The multimedia firm has argued that Digicel Play, which is already being rolled out in Portmore and Spanish Town in St Catherine, and parts of Kingston, will give Jamaicans the power to have entertainment the way they want, as it is "jam-packed with cool features, making it the most attractive entertainment experience around".

"Fibre is more resilient, more secure, more direct and more efficient than any other cable solution - unaffected by the elements, terrain, location or distance - it's always awesome," said O'Brien.