Let telecoms minnows swim with sharks
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The recent acquisitions by LIME and Digicel have sent a mixture of excitement and concern to consumers and technology interests alike about the future of mobile, Internet and cable in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
The question we must ask ourselves is: With Digicel buying SportsMax, Telstar and others; and with LIME acquiring Flow and DEKAL, will these acquisitions lead to robust competition? Will it be a win-win situation for consumers? Or are we seeing the emergence of a duopoly that offers poor service?
The sad reality is that the Internet infrastructure in Jamaica is way below First-World standards. Internet penetration is about a mere 55 per cent. Forget about fancy advertisements that boast of 90 per cent 4G coverage, and the other telling you to sign up and get Internet for as little as $2,500 a month.
Take a trip from your urban enclave and travel the vast rural areas of Jamaica, and look at that fancy smartphone in your hands where you will consistently see the letter 'E' and sometimes 'Web page not available' because of service problems. For those who do not know 'E' in Internet terminology, it means Edge - the slowest speed there is. Forget about streaming, downloading, accessing interactive web pages with Edge speed.
With the advent of cell phones, how many Jamaicans have landlines to access LIME's Internet? This is why companies such as DEKAL was doing such great business, by using its Super Wi-Fi technology, it was able to bring Internet to mainly eastern rural Jamaica, areas that were forgotten by LIME and Digicel.
To be brutally honest, only one company in Jamaica and the region offers First-World service, and that company was FLOW.
A strong regulatory framework must be put in place to prevent some large-scale mergers or buyouts. There must be coexistence of large, medium-size and small firms in order to optimise customer satisfaction. In the same way a super-big Verizon can coexist with Time Warner and Cricket, we must adopt a similar competitive profile.
The minister of science and technology and the Office of Utilities Regulation must encourage firms to focus on niche marketing services instead of one company being a fix-all.
Old Harbour, St Catherine