Wednesday, November 7, 2018
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas' ranking as the world's 130th most expensive country for broadband internet is not a "a fair measurement" of its affordability, a technology entrepreneur argued yesterday.
Dr Donovan Moxey, who chaired the government-appointed Grand Bahama Technology Hub Steering Committee, told Tribune Business that broadband internet costs as a percentage of per capita income was a much better indicator of how affordable this product is for a country's citizens.
He spoke out after Cable.co.uk, an internet site that compares broadband, TV, mobile and energy providers' performance, unveiled its "Worldwide Broadband Price Comparison" survey that placed The Bahamas 130th out of 195 nations based on average monthly broadband costs.
That represented an improvement of six places compared to The Bahamas' 136th ranking in 2017, with this nation's average monthly broadband Internet costs having dropped by $4.46 year-over-year from $77.23 to $72.77.
The Cable.co.uk survey said it analysed 13 different broadband Internet packages offered in The Bahamas to come up with its findings, with prices ranging from $30 to $210. This nation's average cost per megabit per months was pegged at $5.74.
While The Bahamas was ranked below Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, at 110th and 106th places, respectively, it finished within touching distance of the US in 119th place and was only one spot behind Hong Kong. It finished ahead of the likes of Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.
Broadband Internet access, and affordability, is seen as a key driver of economic growth for all countries, given its impact on corporate productivity and efficiency as well as helping to create a knowledge-based workforce able to operate in a technology-led world.
It is especially important for The Bahamas given the Government's ambition to develop Grand Bahama as a technology hub, and its current status as an international financial centre (IFC) and global business hub that has to communicate with clients scattered throughout the world.
Dr Moxey told Tribune Business that while The Bahamas' 130th ranking might convince some observers that "everything is bad", a closer look at the findings revealed several positives.
In particular, he hailed the six-place improvement in the rankings as a sign that broadband Internet costs in The Bahamas were coming down, aided by the intense competition between Cable Bahamas and the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).
And Dr Moxey suggested that monthly broadband Internet prices were not the best measure of affordability, arguing that costs as a percentage of per capita income was a better benchmark given that it showed how much persons were paying as a proportion of their earnings.
"When I look at stuff like that and broadband delivery, there's infrastructure that goes into that and the people behind it," he told Tribune Business. "You have to look at the cost of labour and the cost of living.
"A better picture is the cost of broadband against per capita income, the cost of living and the average salary. In certain countries where the cost of living and the cost of labour is not so high, they're able to sell broadband at a cheaper price.
"What would be better is comparing the cost of broadband to the average per capita income. Jamaica may be paying less in dollar terms, but as a percentage of per capita income what are they paying?" Dr Moxey continued.
"That's how you determine who's expensive and who's not. That tells you how much money people are actually spending on the service. Those with a lower per capita income that are close to us are spending more per capita than we are. That's a much better measurement. Just putting everything in US dollars is not a fair measurement."
Dr Moxey said The Bahamas' improvement in the Cable.co.uk survey showed that broadband Internet costs were falling, and added: "I'm not surprised at that. If you look at the competition between Cable Bahamas and BTC the market for us is getting far more competitive."
Cable.co.uk also acknowledged the challenges faced by Caribbean broadband Internet providers in serving sparsely-populated communities spread across multiple islands and difficult terrain, together with the competition provided by mobile broadband
"Caribbean nations and territories sit almost universally in the most expensive end of the table, largely thanks to their problematic geography. Caribbean nations have been more hesitant in adopting fixed-line broadband solutions, largely favouring mobile broadband and 3G/LTE solutions as a means to get online," Cable.co.uk said.
"Where available, fixed-line broadband is an expensive commodity whose limited uptake is exacerbating these high prices in many cases. Saint Maarten (France) has the cheapest broadband in the Caribbean with an average package price of $23.78, while Haiti offers the most expensive with an average package price of $207.39."
Dr Moxey agreed that many Caribbean nations have "leapfrogged" with mobile broadband, adding that The Bahamas was seeing a similar trend with Aliv, which was helping to keep prices keen through the competition it provides.