THE LIBERALISATION OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN JAMAICA: MORE THAN A DECADE OF PROGRESS

From the era of telegraphs and letters, to cell phones and wireless internet, world technology has transformed itself and Jamaica was not to be left out of the equation.
The 1990s, the era in which I was born, was dominated by only one telecommunications provider; Cable and Wireless Jamaica. This dominance via a licence was supposed to have lasted until last year but the government revoked it in what was a bold move and as we see now, a major boost to the telecoms industry, the economy and our overall culture of communication. The market was now opened to other major players such as Digicel and Miphone (later Claro) who brought well needed competition to a tranquilised sector.
A monopoly, like debt and inflation, is bad for an economy be it in the telecommunications industry or otherwise. It keeps prices unpredictable with no yardstick available to do a comparative measurement leaving us as consumers with a fate constantly hanging in a balance unlikely to tip in our favour. It is with this insight that the government acted; revoking the monopoly licence and making the telecommunications playing field a more levelled one where we did not have to be exploited because of the lack of options or unaffordability but had a choice and sovereignty over that choice.
Jamaica was set for a major technological boost at the commencement of the 2000s (following the withdrawal of the monopoly licence in 1999) with the growth in the use of cellular telephones and internet. The revocation of the monopoly licence flew all flood gates and something big was about to happen. A major transformation was set to take place in the way we communicated and did business.
Digicel Jamaica mentions that in 100 days, it reached 100,000 customers; a target which was meant for the first year of operations. Since then, the company was to expand its reach to every household in every nook and cranny of this island. No more shouting over the fence, I now have a cell phone to call my neighbour and we can talk as long as we want on it! Free nights, family and friends bundles, data bundles… Communication had just gotten easier.
Investments in the telecommunications sector was set to grow with the heat now turned up. The country moved from US$200 million in investments in 2001 to more than US$309 million by 2003 (OUR). These major investments were to ensure the penetration of the entire island with ample means of communication. With the growth in investments and expansion of the reach of telecommunications, no longer was it necessary to stand in a long bank line to pay a bill or make a withdrawal. With the click of a mouse or the dialling of a number you could get your account balance, transfer funds, make withdrawals inter alia. Neither was it necessary to send a letter from one side of the island to the next with cell phones and so many other gadgets now available to transmit such messages in the blink of an eye. E-commerce, e-mail, “e-ase” of doing business had now become the reality of our developing nation. There was a major paradigm shift in the way we communicated and did business and it was a move in the right direction.
The liberalisation of telecommunications has brought about steady earnings for several thousands and their families and by so doing added well needed funds to the tax base which the running of our country is so dependent on. Communities, and by extension the nation, were set to benefits from increased investments into almost every aspect of community life following the destruction of the telecoms industry monopoly. Charity, upgrades to educational facilities, major sponsorships across various sporting disciplines as well as individualised sponsorship were to increase as a result of the inclusion of major players such as Digicel in the market. Our six year olds were to move from writing in books to typing on tablets- it’s no longer “Write a letter to a friend…” but “Type an e-mail to a friend…”
We could now talk face to face with our parents who had to go overseas to make lives better for us- thanks to high speed internet meeting Skype and Facetime. The impact of this telecommunications liberalisation (and with it, new technologies) was being felt everywhere by everyone- from Morant Point to Negril Point.
Despite our upward trend where telecommunications is concerned, there was one major concern about rates in the latter part of the decade that was and following a legal ruling, there was to be added vibrancy in the sector with the pockets of consumers standing to benefit from lower rates. Rates were to move from over $17 to less than $3; a major win for consumers and the commencement of new dynamics in the culture of communication. Talking had become virtually unlimited and no longer did we have to worry about the little lady telling us that we are out of credit with the varied plans available; Talk Ez from LIME and not to be outdone Digicel Jamaica with Gimme Five Extra, Double Bubble, Sweet Plan and not to be left out, the Brawta plan.
This competition opened up in the early 2000s provided well needed employment, freedom of communication, cheaper means of communication inter alia and with this came increased spending power and an increased contribution (directly and indirectly) to an economy which needed it then (as it does now).
The elimination of the monopoly by all analyses must be one of the best things to have happened to Jamaica and Jamaicans where telecommunications is concerned. The ease of communication and ease of doing business has reached levels not even imaginable in the early 21st century. The threat of ample means of communication being accessible to only an elite class had been eliminated and the average Jamaican could capitalise on the affordability presented by competition in the market. The world is now at our finger tips (and affordably so) thanks to the revocation of the monopoly licence and the introduction of new players to the market with new ideas and new technologies.
While one might complain of the negatives, there is no doubt that the benefits have outweighed the negatives. The landscape has been transformed- a new paradigm has been created in the telecommunications industry, our culture of communications, ease of doing business, and the economy stood to benefit from this paradigm shift.

Aujaé K. Dixon
Email: drajdixon@gmail.com
Twitter: aujae_dixon

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