In March of 2016, Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), under the banner of its DigiCell Mobile brand and is telecommunications vendor-partner Huawei, announced the roll out of its nationwide 4G LTE Network to be launched in December of the same year. This marked only the beginning of a partnership and vendor relationship between the two companies Huawei-BTL as Huawei was presented as the selected vendor/provider of BTL’s 4G LTE network. This investment was reported to be $40M Belize dollars.
On July 20, 2017 a press release by Huawei announced that BTL had joined forces with Huawei Marine to Launch Submarine Cable System. This was a project undertaken by BTL and Huawei to implement the BEL’s Strategic Evolution Underwater Link (SEUL) bringing fiber-optic submarine cable connectivity to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. This was a project stretching over 23km from the Belize mainland to the Caye delivering fiber optic connectivity providing fast broadband speeds to the island. It was bragged by both companies as an endeavor to bring world class and lightning fast internet services.
The projects mentioned above were said to be a part of BTL’s four-year, USD 100 million, mobile and fixed broadband capital investment in partnership with Huawei. It was only after the announcement of these projects that Belizeans were informed that these investments would be financed by loans given by Atlantic Bank Limited (Belize) and a Taiwan ICDF loan. The Taiwan loan was a controversial issue at the House of Representatives because the Government of Belize (GOB) was requested and provided a $96M BZ sovereign guarantee for this loan. This loan if not paid by BTL will fall on the backs of the Belizean taxpayers.
As with everything the UDP government does, it is only after a of couple years that you really get the real picture of what they have gotten into. Dean Barrow has done this over and over and has gotten away with it. Now the people of Belize are exposed and will soon be asked to pay BTL’s bill with Taiwan because BTL will be unable to pay its debt. Taxpayers will again be expected to foot a bill that they have not benefitted from as reports are that BTL, coined the people’s company or the Belizean Company, is almost fully managed by ex-pats that are more than handsomely paid meanwhile our Belizean workers are frustrated in the workplace with less and less benefits. Belizeans have also not seen a meaningful decrease in price of the services from the people’s company BTL.
The latest US Sanctions on BTL’s partner Huawei, adding them to a list of companies considered a threat to US National Security, means that it will need permission to acquire US technology. This means that chipmakers like Intel and Broadcom will stop selling to Huawei and it is also reported that Google has pulled the company’s licenses for key mobile applications like Gmail and the Google Play app store. However, on Monday last, the US government agreed to a 90 day exception to the export restrictions that allow Huawei to deal with US companies to support existing products. How much that exception will help and will it be prolonged is the big question that companies around the world are asking. This event affecting telecommunications companies globally gets even more important as the telecommunications industry is getting ready to deploy the long awaited 5G wireless networks.
For BTL this means that management must be in a frenzy as their entire 4G LTE Network is Huawei based and the continued support for the existing telecommunications infrastructure (both in software and hardware) could be seriously jeopardized. It will be interesting to watch how this will play out and, at the end of the day, we will learn if this elephant fight will affect the Belizean taxpayer.