So, found this document whilst I was upgrading an application… I guess I’d accidentally saved it in the wrong folder, then forgot about it ;) Originally, this was intended to be distributed to various BVI newspapers and government offices, as a final sort of parting shot; an incapsulation of our frustrations and the road blocks we met while trying to become operational as Islandless Network.
Anyway, here it is in an unfinished state.
This letter is being sent to various people in the BVI in hopes of raising awareness regarding the state of telecommunications deregulation. I represent a small company that has incorporated in the United States and attempted to gain a trade license in the BVI for the purpose of becoming an Internet Service Provider. Our plan includes the construction of a wireless network that could serve all areas of the BVI, including outlying islands – a wireless network that is independant of any currently existing infrastructure. We aim to provide high quality Internet access at prices lower than those of the existing provider. Our intended markets are BVI businesses, as well as residential users, anchorages, charter yachts, and schools (schools would get access at lower cost).
Our company has been in negotiations with all appropriate government departments for well over a year, and we have received nothing but encouragement from almost all policy setters. It is recognized by people to whom we have explained our plan that it would be beneficial to the BVI in a variety of ways. All BVI residents would have an opportunity to purchase cheaper, faster, and better Internet access than is currently available. Perhaps more importantly, our network would be secure and reliable – two characteristics which are simply missing from the current provider’s Internet access. This would allow BVI businesses to use the Internet as a tool for conducting business more efficiently, as most businesses elsewhere have been doing for quite some time. We believe the fact that most BVI business do not use a great deal of technology is due in part to the lack of a secure and reliable Internet connection. Business cannot rely on the Internet as a part of business operation unless it is both secure and reliable.
The major obstacle, of course, is the monopoly granted to Cable and Wireless by a government contract in 1986. This contract grants Cable and Wireless the exclusive rights to
“…any transmission, emission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images and sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems.”
Obviously, this is far too broad and inclusive to actually be enforced. If this contract were to be taken literally, then the following would be absolutely illegal in the BVI, unless permission was first granted by Cable and Wireless: computer networks – even inside a private residence, VHF radio, doorbells, the use of sign language, baby monitors, CB radio, walkie talkies. Therefore, we can only conclude that the agreement is only enforced when it is convienient for Cable and Wireless.
As inclusive as the Cable and Wireless contract is, we believe that our plan falls outside of the influence of the agreement. Specifically, our proposed wireless network operates on radio frequences that have been designated as “unlicensed” by the relevant regulatory organizations (the International Telecommunications Union, for example). This means that use of unlicensed frequences does not require prior approval from *anyone*, as long as the use of the frequencies does not interfere with other existing systems. Additionally, because our network would be used solely for Internet Protocol based communications, it does not fall in the same category as, for example, a telephone line.
We are an American company, and our employees are also Americans. We are outraged at the audacity of Cable and Wireless for staking claim (successfully) to what essentially represents all forms of communication in the BVI. In the United States, telecommunications have been deregulated since the mid 1980s, so consequently, we poses a competitive mindset. It is easy for us to see the opportunites that BVIslanders are missing, because we have been exposed to competitive markets that exist to the benefit of the consumer. For example, in the United States, it is possible to place a telephone call to almost anywhere within about 5000 miles for the same cost as a local call in the BVI. These low prices are the *direct* result of a competitive market. If there is only one provider of communications services, what incentive is there for the provider to have low prices or exceptional service?
Despite all of these factors, we face great resistance from the BVI government. Our attempts to acquire a trade license have failed repeatedly. While individually, those we speak with support our idea, we have received no official support from anyone with respect to a trade license. We find it incredibly frustrating and counter productive that a government composed of individuals that support an initiative cannot support that same initiative as a collective body.
We believe that the real problem is larger than the scope of our operation in the BVI and more important than Internet service. The government contract that gives Cable and Wireless exclusive rights to all telecommunications is absolutely to the detriment of everyone in the BVI. As was previously noted, this agreement is selectively enforced. Cable and Wireless would not go around shutting down computer networks or collecting VHF radios. Though it is within their legal right to do so, it would only make Cable and Wireless look bad. However, this agreement does prevent new competitors in a very important industry – telecommunications. This keeps customers from having competitive prices and service. In short, the continued adherance to the agreement assures that things will stay the same in the BVI with respect to telecommunications. If BVIslanders think that there should be a change, then by all means they should make it happen, as it has happened in almost every other Caribbean nation or overseas territory. It is our belief that the situation strikes to the very core of human rights issues. Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights, a document drafted by the United Nations, states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Naturally, the BVI missed the boat, bigtime. We probably represented the best hope they’ve ever had for decent Internet service, but they were having none of it. Oh well ;)