Assuring a fair return for millions of dollars of investment into a brand new island-wide fiber optic network for St. Maarten and the possible sharing of that network with competing carriers was a hot talking point at the opening of the Caribbean Peering & Interconnection Forum (CarPIF) Conference at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino, Wednesday.
Keynote speaker, Bill Woodcock, from the USA, had suggested in his opening remarks that a good model for St. Maarten would be allowing government a 20% share of the newly built fibre infrastructure that government can then sell at a more affordable price than if the prices were left to the incumbent operator alone to determine.
The comment did not sit well with TelEm Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mr. Kendall Dupersoy, who questioned why anyone, government included, would be entitled to a free ride on the new network and as a money-making venture, without making a cent of an investment into that network.
“The same way government or anyone else can sell the bandwidth given to them for free, so can TelEm sell and obtain revenues for a proper return on its investment,” said Mr. Dupersoy.
The CEO informed the Keynote speaker and others attending the conference that he is even more concerned that should TelEm Group cede any of its network to government or third parties, there would be nothing to stop “Cherry-picking” by these entities to a point where TelEm, as the supplier of the service, would end up being squeezed out of the same market it has created.
The exchange got hotter after a morning coffee break in a panel discussion that included, Mr. Woodcock, TelEm Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Mrs. Helma Etnel, UTS Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mr. Exi Luijando and Bureau of Telecommunications and Post, St. Maarten Head Technical Department, Mr. Sidney De Weever.
Once again the matter of return on investments came up, but this time with the UTS representative, Mr. Luijando, indicating that the company is all in favour of a shared infrastructure for St. Maarten similar to what the company is currently putting in place in Curacao.
TelEm Group’s Mrs. Etnel countered that this may well be the case now, but for quite some years, UTS in Curacao has refused to share its network and is in fact only doing so now that it has already recouped a large share of its own initial investment.
“We would also want to be in a position to get back the huge investment we are making and then we can talk about sharing,” said the CFO.
She said the debate about sharing would be moot if the same entities who are now keen to share would be just as keen to share in the investments that have to be made now.
“It cannot be that we make the investment and they take a free ride and are able to cherry pick all the best paying customers on a network that we have paid for with our own money,” said Mrs. Etnel.
Bureau of Telecommunications and Post Representative, Mr. De Weever said the ultimate aim is to provide an infrastructure that is cost effective and affordable to everyone and at the end of the day, the most successful provider will we the one who provides the best service for consumers, since it is service alone that will differentiate providers on a single network.
Shortly before the start of the panel discussion, BTP Director, Mr. Anthony Carty, drew a round of applause from the audience when he championed the cause of a shared network infrastructure that, in his view would be the best for consumers.
“At the end of the day it is all about the price for the consumer,” said Mr. Carty.
Speaking at the end of the first day’s session, the BTP Director thanked everyone for their attendance and for the stimulating discussions that have so far taken place. He also offered why the regulator chose to host such a prestigious conference with full support of the CarPIF.
“We recognize the importance of utilizing local Exchange Points to its full potential to expand the Caribbean Internet,” said Mr. Carty.
He said creating more awareness about this important matter and getting all stakeholders involved is “imperative to make the internet function better and make it more affordable to all.”
Apart from the CEO, who also joined a panel discussion during the afternoon session, and the CFO, other TelEm Group and sister company St. Maarten Cable TV Personnel also attended the conference in good numbers.
The CarPIF conference continues at the same venue, tomorrow (Thursday).