PM Delivers Keynote Address @ CANTO | Miami, Florida

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Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie addressing CANTO.
Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie addressing CANTO.

The Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie delivers the keynote address at the Opening Ceremony of The Caribbean Association Of National Telecomms Operators (CANTO) 31st Conference in Miami at the Hyatt Regency, where BTC CEO Leon Williams served as the Master of Ceremonies and Vice Chairman.

Prime Minister of The Bahamas Rt. Honourable Perry Gladstone Christie, M.P. Keynote Speaker CANTO 31st Annual Conference & Trade Show at Miami Hyatt Regency Hotel Sunday, 26th July, 2015.

Theme: “Improving Lives through Broadband Innovation”:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I wish to thank Mr. Julian Wilkins the Chairman of the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication Organizations (CANTO) and Vice President of Digicel Trinidad & Tobago and his Vice Chairman Mr. Leon Williams CEO of BTC and Senior Vice President of Cable & Wireless for the invitation to speak at this historic 31st Annual CANTO Conference and Trade Show.

It is my understanding that this is just the second time CANTO is being held in Miami and that I have had the privileges of being the Keynote Speaker for both occasions. I do not know what conclusions can be drawn from this occurrence but I must say in all honesty that I am always happy to support the activities of CANTO, where ever they occur and so I am happy to be with you here in Miami.

I wish to also thank the Board of Directors, the Secretary General Ms. Regine Frazer, and the CANTO Secretariat for facilitating my visit.

My respect to the Honourable Ministers of Telecommunications, ICTs, Science and Technologies from Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Curacao, Commonwealth of Dominica, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Marteen, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Suriname, Turks & Caicos and Trinidad &Tobago.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Having spoken at the Opening Ceremonies of your Conferences in 2003, 2012, 2014 and here today in 2015, I am told, that I am setting a record for the number of speeches by any one Prime Minister addressing you at an Opening Ceremony.

It seems just like yesterday that I was speaking to you at the 30th Annual Trade show at the Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island.

Since I last spoke to you, I have served as the Chairman of CARICOM, demitting that office just a few weeks ago.

I must say that holding the office of Chairman of the Conference of CARICOM from 1st January, until 30th June coupled with serving my second nonconsecutive term as Prime Minister of The Bahamas, with forty one years as a Member of Parliament, gives me a grounding on life in the Caribbean and all the idiosyncrasies that living in this beautiful and unique region of the world entails. While some can only read about it, I am one who has lived it.

Each time I speak to you, there seems to be a new Chairman. The first time I recall, it was Mr. Cornelius Prior. I missed Mr. Leon Williams Chairmanship. Then it was Mr. Ian Blanchard followed by Mr. Dirk Currie and now Mr. Julian Wilkins.

Thanks for the invitation to speak tomorrow at the Ministerial Forum, unfortunately, I am not able to attend, therefore, I thought I should give you an update, as well as challenge your thoughts and deliberations.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I think it is appropriate that I should begin by updating you on the particulars of certain developments in The Bahamas.

As you know, in 2011, the Government of The Bahamas sold 51% of the Shares of BTC to Cable & Wireless while my Party was in opposition.

As I committed in my speech to you three years ago, the Government of The Bahamas has successfully negotiated back the Majority Shareholding in BTC, while spending a mere $10,000.00 to do so.

Since my last visit here, Cable & Wireless has appointed a well-qualified and respected Bahamian as CEO in the person of Mr. Leon Williams and elevated him to the position of Senior Vice President of Cable & Wireless. Also, Cable & Wireless has appointed Mr. Dexter Cartwright, a Long Island born Bahamian to the Board of BTC. Dexter is a Senior Vice President at Columbus Networks now C&W.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

In the last 12 months, under Leon’s Leadership, BTC has installed 29 new Cell sites and 107 LTE Sites for a total of 172 LTE Sites. The installation of 4G LTE Sites makes The Bahamas one of only 9 Countries in the Caribbean to have LTE Technology. Not only does my LTE phone work in The Bahamas but, I am roaming on the AT&T LTE Mobile Network right now.

For redundancy and resilience, BTC has built a second Mobile Switching Centre in Freeport, Grand Bahama.

I am pleased that the capital expenditure by BTC has reduced Dropped Calls from 70,000 Calls per day to 6,000 Dropped Calls per day and has made LTE almost ubiquitous throughout The Bahamas. But there is still more work to be done.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

BTC is presently Beta Testing IPTV on a number of Islands including Bimini, Cat Island, Inagua, Andros, Long Island and Grand Bahama, with the intent of commercially launching IPTV in a few months.

I am told that the acquisition of Columbus Networks by Cable & Wireless will transform how I watch Television. I am presently a Beta Tester of BTC’s IPTV and I am told it will only get better and I will be able to watch Carnival Live from Trinidad and News from Barbados, Jamaica, Haiti etc.

Leon has also promised me that because Columbus and Cable & Wireless has the Caribbean Broadcast Rights to the 2016 Olympics, watching Bahamian athletes perform at the Olympics will no longer be dependent on whether there are American or Canadian athletes in the race. As the first Bahamian International medal winner in Field events, this is important to me and every Bahamian.

I am hoping to stand up in the House of Assembly very soon and demonstrate live television coverage of the proceedings of the House of Assembly on my phone, as promised by Leon.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am also told, that BTC is in the process of deploying Fiber to The Home in New Providence and Grand Bahama and VDSL in the Family Islands providing the possibility of BTC Broadband Customers enjoying speeds of up to 100 Mega Bits and 30 Mega Bits respectfully.

As I understand it, BTC will also beam High Speed Broadband to Cruise Ships plying our Bahamian waters so as to enhance their customers’ experience. For these many investments I want to thank Mr. Phil Bentley, CEO of Cable & Wireless and Chairman of BTC, and his team for their support.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

In 2012 your Theme was “Accelerating Broadband Experience in the Caribbean Transforming the way we live.” In 2014, your Theme was “Strategic Alliance for Sustainable Broadband Development.” Over the last few years, the theme of your Conference has consistently included the word “broadband.” Therefore, I thought that I should continue our family fireside chat that I started here in 2012.

Family fireside chats are not always nice and pleasant, sometimes the rubber just meets the road and tough love is the order of the day.

Because life is lived forward but understood backwards, let us do a little reflection. I was here in this same location on Sunday afternoon 21st July 2012 and I challenged you then by quoting from the May 2012 Report of the Inter-American Development Bank. And I quote,

“At present, however, broadband is less accessible, more expensive and less used in most Latin American and Caribbean countries, than the average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Although prices have been falling in recent years, the IDB said cost is another major hurdle. The IDB said the digital divide is “even starker” among and within countries of the region, particularly when comparing coverage in urban and rural areas.”

That was a quote from my speech in this venue three years ago. Three years later, you have posted on your website’s landing page advertising this 2015 Annual Conference and I quote: “The ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference of 2014 declared that despite all the progress made during past years, the digital divide still remains, and is compounded by disparities in access, use and skills between and within countries, in particular between urban and rural areas, as well as in the availability of accessible and affordable telecommunications/ICTs, particularly for women, youth, children, indigenous people and persons with disabilities, including age related disabilities.”

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It sounds like the same thing to me just being regurgitated by the ITU instead of the IDB this time.

What have we done in the last three years? Is this an indictment on us as Policy Makers and Providers of ICTs in the Region?

It has been stated over and over again that “Broadband is the Crude Oil of the 21st Century. Broadband is the currency of the 21st Century. Broadband is to the 21st Century what oil was to the 19th Century.”

The IDB stated in its 2012 Report: “The challenges of developing broadband are so formidable that the private sector will not be able to face them alone. Indeed, there is a need for governments to join with the private sector and to provide leadership in initiatives to reduce, not only the Digital Divide but, also to use digital means to narrow the social divide.”

Seven (7) years before the IDB made that pronouncement in 2012, as Prime Minister of The Bahamas, in 2005, I instructed BTC to build a National Broadband Network at a cost of over US$80 Million. I knew back then, that a private company would not have done it. But, I also knew then that if I did not do it, I would have been enabling the Digital Divide in my Country.

No private company would come to an archipelagic country, the largest in the Caribbean with 700 Islands, Rocks and Cays covering 100,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, and build such a network.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

All the deployments of a second MSC, 172 4G LTE Sites, VDSL in the Family Islands, IPTV and beaming High Speed Broadband to Cruise Ships that I just gave accolades to Cable & Wireless for, would not have been possible in the last 12 months, if 7 years ago, my Government did not make the investments in The Bahamas Domestic Submarine fiber optic Network connecting 14 of the major Islands of The Bahamas, with a spur to Haiti.

In 2000 and 2003 respectively, Caribbean Countries have all signed on to both the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations and the World Summit on the Information Society. 2015 was supposed to be the year. Fifteen years later we still seem to be in an abyss.

North America has 87.7% Internet Penetration, while the Caribbean has just 41.1%, as of 30th June 2014, according to the Internet World Stats by Miniwatts Marketing Group.

This same Report shows Internet Penetration of Bermuda at 95.3%, Bonaire & Saba at 95.5%, Curacao at 94.0%, Bahamas at 91.3%, Trinidad & Tobago at 63.8%, Jamaica at 54%, British Virgin Islands at 44.7%, Suriname at 37.4%, Belize lingering at 31.7%, Turks & Caicos at 30.1%, just to name a few countries.

Despite having two fiber optic submarine cables (BTC and Columbus), connecting it to the outside world and, despite having Digicel as a Mobile Provider, Haiti is the lowest at 12.2% Internet Penetration. Canada is at 94.7%, while the United States is at 86.9%.

And so, I challenge our Ministers of ICTs and our Regulators as I did the last time I was here. Our Telecom Providers are not here because they like us. They are in our Region to make money. Therefore, let us actively pursue Policies and Legislations that will support the initiatives of Organizations like CANTO and improve the lives of our citizens through the innovation of Broadband.

Let’s do it. The time for talking about it is over.

As Prime Minister of The Bahamas and former Chairman of CARICOM, I am not that naive to believe, that the Caribbean Nationals sitting in this room, who serve as Executives of Caribbean Telecommunications Organizations such as C&W and Digicel can do much, because, unlike Belize Telemedia or Suriname’s TELESUR or UTS in the Dutch ABC Islands, your organizations are privately own.

But, there is much more you can do, so I challenge you as a Caribbean National.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me put on my CARICOM hat and speak to the Providers of Telecommunications in the Region.

No Prime Minister, no Minister of Government responsible for ICT and no Regulator expects you to make Capital Investments without a Return on your Investments.

But, on the other hand, you cannot expect Governments of the Region to sit quietly when $700 Million plus is made in Haiti, the poorest Country, and the service is atrocious.

You cannot expect Governments of the Region to sit at ease as its citizens continue to pay more for less.

You cannot expect Governments whose economic growth are flat or experiencing minimal growth, to settle for 41.1% Broadband penetration, when we are told by the ITU that increasing Broadband can account for 3.6% to 4% growth in GDP. And, it is not because of the lack of skilled labour and talent in the Caribbean but, because of the lack of affordable, reliable high speed Internet.

This could only lead to increasing vexing challenges for our Governments that are bred as a result of increasing unemployment of our youth and the feeling of hopelessness in our societies.

Broadband provides an equalizer to the playing field. It results in the democratizion of invention. As Hon. Dr. Monsoor once told you, “anyone with a high-speed Broadband connection and a Credit Card can be anything they want to be”.

There was a time when the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organizations’ very name indicated the state of affairs of ICTs in the Caribbean. The Providers were National Telecommunications Organizations mostly and partly owned by Caribbean Governments.

Today, in recognition of the present state of affairs, even this Organization has changed its name to CANTO. The Providers are, for the most part, private.

It will be an indictment on us all if three years from now CANTO is still debating the way forward for enriching the lives of Caribbean Nationals through Broadband deployment.

Ladies and gentlemen:

Let me again state what I said the last time I was here. History shows that there was a time when, for example, Cable & Wireless had over 10,000 employees in Jamaica, today, there is only 1,400 in the entire Caribbean. Even Digicel, after 10 years, have been offering Voluntary Separation Packages.

I am not being critical, I am just stating a reality. More and more Caribbean Nationals are losing their jobs and more and more Caribbean Governments are being asked to issue Work Permits to none Caribbean Nationals. Please, let me state for the record that I am all for cross pollination and improving our skill sets. But, I also believe that there has be a reflection at all strata of the companies in the Caribbean of the customers who provide the Revenues and Profits.

And, while I am at it, let me restate that there should be equity in compensation and compensation should be attached to the office and not the individual holding the office. In that way, a Caribbean National, upon being promoted to Executive Management, should receive the same compensation and perks as that of his Expat colleagues. The responsibilities of running the Company doesn’t change with whose running the company. The challenges do not change. Therefore, the Compensation should not change.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I hope I am not making you uncomfortable with our fireside chat.

Before I leave you, I will like to once again turn my attention to The Bahamas.

As you know, the Government of The Bahamas in 2011 committed to have a period of exclusivity after the privatization of BTC. To this end, my Government announced the formation of a Liberalization Task Force to secure Bidders for the Second License.

The Task Force received Bids from three potential providers, namely: Digicel, Virgin and Cable Bahamas. In the midst of the process, Digicel withdrew, leaving just two contenders.

I believe this is the third time Digicel has looked at The Bahamas and dropped out.

My Government will soon make an announcement on which Bidder will be selected and will pass on to the next round.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Last year Cable & Wireless acquired Columbus Networks. As a result its Shares went from trading at 42 Pence to as high as 71.4 Pence. I challenge CANTO to show us, as Caribbean Governments, who approved this merger, how this merger can enrich the lives and improve the misery index of ordinary Caribbean Citizens in the Region and not just the Shareholder, who lives outside the Region. What does it mean for Caribbean Education, Jobs, Medicine, eGoverment, Security etc.

In conclusion:

Let me again thank you for inviting me for the fourth time to speak at your Conference.

Let me encourage you in your deliberations to ensure you do your utmost to encourage your employers to:

• Lower the barriers for entry for your Broadband Users,

• Increase the Speed of these Users

• Reduce the prices so that the lives of the 40 Million people living in the 34 Countries you represent could be enriched.

Last week in an IDB Skills Gap Conference I attended in The Bahamas, we were told that there are 22 Million Youth in LATAM region unemployed.

We were told that 65% of the jobs for 2020 plus have not yet been invented.

I have noted that you have a Marketing Tract, a Human Resources Tract and a Hack a Ton. Congratulations!

Do your part in these deliberations to help save our youth, help save our economies and, in so doing, help save our Region.

May God continue to bless you in your deliberations this week and may God bless CANTO.

Good evening.

Perry Gladstone Christie, M.P

Prime Minister of The Commonwealth of

The Bahamas

Former Chairman of CARICOM

CEO of BTC Mr. Leon Williams moderating the event.
CEO of BTC Mr. Leon Williams moderating the event.

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