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Letter: Big broadband network in Trinidad and Tobago
Published on May 11, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

The Trinidad and Tobago prime minister has confirmed that the Cabinet was aware of the overall strategic plan of TSTT, the local telecoms provider, one to be funded by a TT$1.9 billion loan. However, as other members of the Cabinet have said, they were unaware of the details of the buyout of the shares of Massy Communications and have asked TSTT to provide the details of the proposed acquisition.

The single most important aim of this government must be the diversification of the economy given the continued decline of the foreign exchange breadwinner, the energy sector, of the economy. In this context the strategic plan of TSTT, more so the strategic plan of the government for national telecommunications is a vital part of our plan to diversify the economy.

The 2011-12 budget of the People’s Partnership government stated that, in collaboration with the World Bank, government was to prepare a strategic map to rollout a high speed broadband network for the country over two years. This would require a plan to finance the backbone infrastructure. However, none of this has seen the light of day.

Still, the current UNC in opposition is questioning the acquisition of Massy Communications by TSTT and sees it as a bailout of a private telecommunications company, which has failed – accordingly the money to be spent by TSTT, given the current clientele of Massy Communications, seems exorbitant and impossible to recoup within an adequate timeframe.

Today, TSTT is still 51% owned by our government and the intent is to sell the other 49% of shares owned by C&W, given the latter’s involvement with another telecommunications provider locally. Hence the current TSTT’s strategic plan can be taken hopefully as a government approved plan for the development of telecommunications in Trinidad and Tobago.

The role that telecommunications should play in the diversification of our economy far surpasses simply making a timely return on expenditure, investment, to provide the population with ICT and entertainment services. Telecommunications will impact on our planned economic diversification in many ways. Today no company is a player of note if it is not supported in all of its activities by the use of computers, the Internet and the telecommunications infrastructure and technologies.

Hence the telecommunication infrastructure of the country does not provide competitive advantage to these firms – it simply provides the basic wherewithal for participation in the global market, without which they are non-starters.

A fundamental requirement then in the diversification of our economy is the provision of a big broadband national network interconnected to the world that will allow communication among the related economic elements, interconnections that are critical to economic activity.

This means providing interconnection speeds continually at 100Mb/s and above to each household and business which today requires a “fibre to the premises” network – a feature of the infrastructure of the Massy Communications network. It is worth noting that Trinidad and Tobago is at best under-served in telecommunications access.

The world has found that, given the limited timescale of the private sector’s vision for return on investment, these broadband networks are not effectively supplied by the private sector; by competition among national providers. Instead, Japan’s government has built a national fibre network interconnecting all homes and businesses and Finland, Sweden and Canada have broadband services that are far superior to those in the USA, where the private sector was expected via competition to build these networks.

In other words it is a fallacy to expect, as TSTT seems to do, that competition among the local private sector providers will create the required big broadband network.

Further, ICT and this broadband network also have a role to play in helping us develop innovative goods and services for export. Within our planned national innovation system the Internet, information and telecommunications technologies are fundamental to the optimum exploitation of our natural advantages – agriculture, say integration of our tourism and airline industries.

Also, the telecommunications infrastructure will allow our innovators to focus on the use of the emerging technologies of the fourth industrial revolution and the broadband network to provide and deliver globally competitive services that can include delivery globally of local content, innovative marketing, distributed medicine, customisation of offerings, etc.

If the strategic plan of TSTT as approved by the government is based on the construction of a big broadband network, of which the infrastructure of Massy Communications is surely a part (even the fibre of T&TEC can feature), then we may well be on our way again to building the absolutely necessary high speed communication backbone that can support the diversification of the economy.

The downside is that the return on investment is not short to medium term. As a result there has to be a telecommunication strategic plan that recognises that competition among the private sector providers cannot produce the required network, that a government supported entity (TSTT?) has to be financially nurtured in the building of such a network as we have seen in Finland and Japan.

Financing such a network cannot be left to serendipity.

Mary K King
St Augustine
Reads: 3793

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