Internet access continues to be a priority for all Belizeans, considering the tremendous technological advances that have been sweeping across the World. Only decades ago, a main frame computer occupied an entire room, in contrast with today, where speeds of microprocessors have not only increased, but gone down in size; making it possible for internet ready computers to fit in the palm of our hands. As a result of increased speed in microprocessors, computer units have also been able to perform multitasking with greater efficiency; speeding up communications in real time from anywhere on Earth. All this has led to the rise of data rich mediums such as Facebook, Viber, Windows Live, WhatsApp, Skype and others that are now changing the business models of internet providers and at the same time giving endless joy to tech savvy consumers.
In 2015, some 43% of the World’s population was connected to the internet, with a share of the population covered by mobile broadband networks. Also in 2015, there were still 4.1 billion people without internet access and 1.6 billion without mobile broadband coverage. As a result, the United Nations General Assembly and the International Telecom Union ITU recently called on the International Community to provide universal access to affordable internet by 2020. This was partially prompted by studies, which suggest that a 10% increase in broadband penetration in developing countries is correlated with a 1.35% increase in Gross Domestic Product GDP.
In a recent report on the State of Internet Connectivity for 2015, which has been released by Facebook, Belize has been ranked (in terms of internet connectivity) above both Grenada and Guyana, but below Iran and Bolivia. Other data from the Statistical Institute of Belize, shows that by September of 2015, the Belize District led the way with Internet access, followed by the Cayo and the Stann Creek District. From a set sample of 86,883 respondents taken from around Belize in 2015, some 26,180 had internet access whilst 60,476 did not have internet.
“I think that with the right engineering and the right technology we can deliver internet in most places in Belize, not every single place, obviously, but in most places and we have a duty to do that and so, we are not satisfied with where we are right now, and we are very bullish, very ambitious as far as getting to those places and not only getting to them, but delivering a service and a speed and a quality, which is competitive for the region,” says Anwar Barrow, Chairman within the Executive Committee at BTL.
I think that BTL is in a great position to make the internet more available to people, we realize that it’s a business opportunity as well as a social duty of the Company. We’re very aware of it and we are working every day diligently towards doing that. We are calling on help from all of our partners and hiring privately; as I said resources both locally as well as internationally, from all over the world and depending on our team to take us there.”
As one of Belize’s leading internet providers, BTL has just signed an agreement to launch a brand new mobile network in the Country, which is going to come on stream by the end of 2016. As part of the plan, 60 more cell towers will be added, giving a total of 157 cell towers Nationwide, which is bound to increase internet access for Belizeans. With a bigger tower network in Belize, so will the speed and capacity in broadband that will result. Belizeans will increasingly have an option to using their mobile devices; skipping the need for the stationary and fixed line approach to get to the World Wide Web. In terms of internet download speeds, Belize is in the last three out of 27 or the 25th in the region, but the plan is to bring Belize to the top three by 2020 says Anwar Barrow.
Already, members of the public can access free wireless internet that has been provided by BTL at the new Benque Viejo market, Cayo Welcome Center, Mae Gordon Park in Belmopan and others across the Country. Towards the end of this year, BTL is going to be unveiling a special offering that is going to be unique to Belize and the first in the Region, increasing internet penetration in Belize even further.
But an electrical energy challenge must first be overcome for universal internet access in Belize. Ambrose Tillet, the Energy Director with the Ministry of Energy and Public Utilities says that the unavailability of electricity in some areas of Belize is one variable to consider when aiming for internet access.
“As we are rolling out electricity to these services, we need to be working with actors from the telecom sector,” he says.
“The Government of Belize has made a commitment both nationally and internationally that by the end of this decade we should achieve universal access to electricity...”