In last week’s New Year’s Address to the nation, the Prime Minister expressed disappointment on the delay in the privatisation of the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation (BaTelCo), but was firm in his belief that the Government has been successful in establishing the necessary preconditions which are critical for the transition to a digital economy and for the modernisation of the entire telecommunications system.

He referred to a forward-looking telecommunications sector policy, providing the framework for privatisation and the liberalisation of telecommunications. The Government has removed the regulatory authority for telecommunications from BaTelCo, established an independent regulator, the Public Utilities Commission, and, by legislation, has clearly set out the separate and distinct functions of policy-making, regulation and service provision.

Recognising that the greatest efficiencies – cost reductions and quality service – are best achieved through competition, the Government will break the monopoly enjoyed by BaTelCo for the provision of cellular telephone service – beginning some time after March, 2002. It will consider applications for a second cellular telephone licence, and, further, has agreed to break BaTelCo’s monopoly on fixed line telephone services as of December, 2003.

Competition in other areas of telecommunications has been introduced already. This includes satellite, microwave and other wireless means of telecommunications, customer premises equipment and Internet data access.

*”These changes will assist in attaining the desired result on behalf of consumers, that is, lower rates and greater openness of the sector,”* said the Prime Minister.

In pursuing its policy for liberalisation of the telecommunications sector, the Bahamas Government has announced intentions to privatise Batelco and to sell 49% of its shares to a strategic partner with the resources and ability to bring the company up to the best international standards, and in due course to sell additional shares to the general public.