I thank the members of the BTC privatization committee, headed by Mr. T.B. Donaldson, and their advisors for a comprehensive and outstanding body of work. While the details are complex, it is clear that the work contained in these three bills is a result of a worldwide search for the best model for The Bahamas.
The committee has achieved its goal of providing the legal architecture for a truly advanced communications sector in The Bahamas.
It has been a privilege to serve on the Advisory Committee. The meetings were fruitful, cordial and informative. The focused approach by the members made the work easy and straightforward.
It is in this context and the fact that this Parliament has often spoken about A Committee Structure that I make another observation. The willingness of The Ingraham Government to provide information to the public and to Parliament to enable thorough understanding of the laws we seek to pass and the consequences of the laws is evident to all impartial observers.
This process does not diminish debate, but crystallizes the position of the Government. Members of Parliament and Senators clearly appreciate the process, based on the numbers who take advantage of the opportunities.
A fundamental difference of opinion will emerge, if it has not already done so, regarding the capacity of the Bahamas to staff and equip the URCA, UAT and how the extraordinary range of the Communications Act will be accommodated by our country.
These questions will come from members who have governed and made these choices and decisions. Who have appointed judges, commissions, ambassadors, and who were appointed ministers.
Either we have confidence in our ability to select and nurture new institutions, or we can chose to erode the gains we have made.
As well, we will hear about ZNS and its role.
Well we have seen what has happened to broadcasting, since the liberalization of radio in the Bahamas. It has been good for our people and for our country.
The decision to sell BTC was made some time ago.
We are here today to put in place the enabling legal infrastructure. However, while we are not about selling, I must underscore the importance of communications to economic development.
In The Bahamas, we have stalled economic growth and individual choices through the long years toward privatization.
The Bahamas has paid dearly for the delay.
Today, despite the evidence of significant economic benefits to the economy arising from modern, efficiently priced electronic communications services, we are one of the few remaining countries worldwide retaining a monopoly on telephone communications, mobile or fixed.
The Bahamas has several significant opportunities to transform its economic landscape and to shape a different template for future growth.
• Renewable energy
• Sale of Aragonite
• Licence selected industries
Especially in energy and communications our citizens are already spending the money. The true opportunity lies in leveraging this expenditure through greater efficiency and reduced costs.
The actions we take today to prepare BTC for liberalization is in keeping with our goal to strengthen the foundation of the Nations chief economic pillars.
• Financial Services
• Wealth Management
• Natural Resource development
Communications is critical to our economic, social and cultural success.
I will spend some time illustrating how the Bahamas can expand its economy through this process we are taking today.
In an article titled, The Impact of Telecoms on Economic Growth in Developing Countries, the authors summarised the result of a 92 country study. The study, completed in 92 countries worldwide provided the “…most robust and sensible estimates of the impact of mobile telephony on economic growth…”
Economists have long examined the importance of social overhead capital to economic growth. This capital is considered expenditure on education, health services, and public infrastructure-roads, ports and airports. Telecommunications infrastructure is a crucial element of social overhead capital, whether it is publicly or privately provided.
Younger Bahamians have difficulty imagining what everyday life was like in the Bahamas just a few years ago. Communications between communities and about markets was often by sailboat.
The research I referenced earlier drew three broad conclusions:
1. Countries with low levels of telecommunications experience lower levels of economic growth, higher costs and reduced opportunities, because information is difficult to gather. The lower incomes result in an inability to pay for the infrastructure.
2. Mobile phones are lower cost and far quicker to roll out than fixed lines, and demonstrated that mobile phones are playing the same crucial role that fixed line phones played in spurring economic growth in Europe, Canada and the USA.
3. Mobile telephony has a positive and significant impact on economic growth, and this impact may be twice as large in developing countries compared to developed countries. The growth dividend of increasing mobile phone penetrations is substantial.
Modern communications enable the spread of information and have created what Alan Greenspan coined as the “new economy” to represent how the spread of modern information and communications technology has enabled high growth with low inflation.
The “New Economy” is the direct result of the networked computer. The New Economy enables greater competition and new means of organizing production.
As Prime Minister Ingraham indicated, The Bahamas is widely connected by telephone and cable. However, we pay high and suffer inadequate services. There are still some communities without basic services.
This Act of Parliament that will positively change the manner in which we operate our electronic media is welcomed by a woefully silent majority who have been held hostage by its underperformance. This underperformance has prevented us from achieving key developmental goals and rendered some sectors of industry non-competitive.
The Bahamas suffers along with the rest of the world in the wake of the global economic downturn; and like every other nation, we are looking for ways to stimulate our economy. However, where other nations that have already pushed their technological agenda, we have yet to take full advantage of the many opportunities that lie with digital communications.
The passage of this Act will represent one of the chief components to stimulate our economy. Outflows from this legislation will develop a new economic sector, provide the supportive framework for significant expansion of Tourism and Financial Services, enhance investor confidence, and renew faith in the integrity of our institutions.
Maintaining the principles of integrity and transparency which are taken as the order of the day for this Government, the Communications Act gives clear rules and regulations for all participants. This requirement is backed up with the provision for an independent regulator to adjudicate on all matters needing clarity or arbitration.
The opening up of this sector will reduce costs to business and create new employment opportunities. It will further entrench some of the fundamental tenants of democracy by giving increased avenues to outlets for the dissemination of information.
The improved accessibility can only help this nation grow stronger.
The opening of more channels of communication will also not only bring the Government closer to the people, but will better allow the people to get their views, opinions and feelings back to government in a direct and even instantaneous manner.
Comments were made about talk show hosts. I have no complaints about talk show hosts. My constituent, Jeff Lloyd, excels through probing questions, solid research and impartiality.
This will compel Government to be more attentive to the needs of the people, and allow for important matters to be dealt with in a more effective manner, therefore nipping potentially volatile issues in the bud.
Innovation is one of the best drivers for the development of an economy, and where we have kept certain sectors protected, we need to recognise that not only may we have stifled efficiency, but we have also very probably stifled innovation.
All stakeholders should realise that everyone benefits from economic sectors that are allowed to not only grow, but which are allowed to compete.
Organisations competing for qualified technical staff will not only give employees choices in where they work, but will allow for increased compensation for their expertise. As employers recognize that their employees have a choice in their place of work they will need to provide improved conditions of service that will encourage them to remain.
Due to the fast changing nature of the technologies used in the digital world, employers will need to offer better professional development opportunities to their employees if they wish to stay ahead, and this will greatly improve the pool of competence within the country, as well as increase the earning power of these employees.
Examples of opportunities are numerous, and provide potential for the individual entrepreneur to the large business organisation. We have up to date technology in our mobile phone market, but issues such as pricing and support result in poor utilisation of some of the technology available.
For example, the use of data on the mobile phone, to get this set up requires a visit to the telephone company, using up valuable time, whereas in reality this can be set up through a simple text message service. The cost of data over the phone is so high that few will be able to use it, so why invest in the technology when you cannot develop the revenue stream to maximise returns?
In Europe you can get 3 gigabytes of data on your mobile phone for $15, but in The Bahamas this can be the cost of downloading just one web page.
How can this help business?
Imagine where tourists can afford to roam their phones when they arrive in The Bahamas, and they are met by a welcome text with a link that will take them to web pages showing the different attractions, places to eat, special offers or packages, etc, all at a minimum cost.
Our business people will now have access to the tourists for which they often complain are herded into locations approved by tour operators to the disadvantage of all others. The data provider can make money by selling these services to those who would want to advertise their products, on an extremely flexible platform, and so for example, that same data provider can offer properties for sale to those looking for second homes, complete with pictures and background on the different locations.
This gives access to Real Estate practitioners for potential clients that may not ordinarily make those extra steps to pursue enquiries into second homes, or even Bahamian buyers who may not be aware of new opportunities.
The government can use this medium to issue updates to tourists on simple matters that may keep them safe, or provide them the confidence to explore more of The Bahamas.
This ability has enormous application in our work to preserve and promote our environment.
Imagine a resort that is constantly streaming live video over the web, beautiful beaches, boats heading out to fish, or the catch when the fishing boat returns. Someone surfing the internet in an office in New York seeing such splendour, realises he needs a break, and before you know it a new tourist is on the way who may not have even been thinking about a holiday.
What of the business man who wishes to monitor his vehicle location or movement of stock, possibly even update an order after the vehicle has already left the depot? This can all be done instantaneously without a major investment in new equipment; in fact some of the modern cell phones already have the capacity to undertake these types of tasks.
Larger organisations can connect their branches or encourage home workers by using Voice of Internet PABX systems that allow lower costs calls, and in many cases no cost calls. This can increase the flexibility in how and where we work, as well as reducing costs, while increasing competiveness.
Individuals can go into the graphic creation business, ring tone development, and gain access to markets both here and afar.
The Call Service industry could be opened up, Back Office support Centres may become viable, the list is endless and is limited only by our imagination or knowledge of the options.
The support to strengthen governance and security should not be ignored, with better access to the internet, blog sites can be taken to the next level, allowing for the promulgation nationally important issues. The use of sites, such as Twitter, can allow for the immediate passing on of important information, such as traffic jams, surveillance of our shorelines in order to monitor the arrival of illegal immigrants, etc.
It is my sincere belief that a whole new economic sector has been opened up to us, and we should all embrace this new opportunity for the betterment, development and growth of our great Nation.
On behalf of the people of Marathon, I wholeheartedly, support the bill.