Satellite And DSL Internet Access In Belize

Satellite Internet / TV service in rural Belize – free from the exorbitant government controlled telco prices.

Internet access is widely available in Belize – but is very expensive. The telephone company has enjoyed a strangle-hold on being the only one allowed to offer Internet services. This worsened in 2011 when the government expropriated privately held Belize Telemedia Limited.

But along came satellite Internet. Direct TV, Hughes and Starband now offer satellite Internet access. And hundreds of Belizeans, residents and expats have jumped on the band wagon.

Satellite Internet is ideal for those who want to live on the beach or in the countryside where cables and telephone connectivity are not yet available. You can surf the Internet, trade stocks, conduct ecommerce, sell or buy on EBAY – all from a tropical paradise.

Satellite Internet, like satellite TV, requires a slightly larger dish than that used in the USA and Canada – a 2 foot dish gives excellent results. Some fanatics go larger, using a 4 or 6 foot dish to get the strongest signal that will withstand any except the heaviest thunderstorms. Setting up your satellite internet dish is not as easy as setting up your satellite TV dish. The dish alignment is critical and because a signal is not only being received, but also transmitted up to the satellite, a technician is usually required to set this up for you.

Satellite Internet Access is available from various Belize and expat installers, most of who do not advertise so as to not to invite harassment from the predatory Public Utilities Commission. It is best to ask friends or neighbors for a contact or referral.

Satellite Internet is relatively cheap – for Belize – about US$120. a month for unlimited use. The speed is about 128 KBPS up and 600 KBPS down. Starband is now offering its SOHO satellite Internet service with 100 KBPS up and 1 MBPS down. This costs about US$150. a month.

Belize Internet By ADSL

DSL service from the local telephone company is now available in major population centers – but it is terribly expensive compared to  other countries. The maximum speed available is 1 Megabytes up by 8 Megabytes down and this costs a whopping US$350. a month. Compare this to the same service for about US $9.95 a month in most developed countries for a quick reality check. Living in paradise does have some hidden gotchas. Reason enough to consider satellite Internet and TV access. Technical savvy users can get around the exorbitant government Internet access fees by various means such as sharing a high-speed link via a cache server but this is a strategy that you would need to discuss with a qualified IT professional.

The cheapest Belize Internet via DSL is 128K at US$12.50. a month. What is worse is that non-Belizeans need to make a security deposit of upwards of US $500. in addition to installation and connection fees. Here are the Internet access rates and speeds in Belize current for December 2012. These rates were introduced after the company was publicly shamed by a study showing Belize has the slowest and most expensive Internet access in the region. Even a member of the government cabinet issued a public condemnation of the company in a public forum held to review Science and Technology in in Belize.

“The Global Competitiveness Index report of 2012 ranks Belize as one of the least competitive economies in the world. We are ranked one hundred and twenty-three out of one hundred and forty-two countries. In the region, only Haiti has a lower rank.” – Senator Joy Grant Minister with responsibility for Science and Technology 27 September 2012. The improved monthly Internet rates in Belize grudgingly offered by BTL now are the following:

128 K   BZ $24.  (US $21.50)  128K is is a joke and most often crawls along at 56K – remember dial-up Internet?
256 K   BZ $56.  (US $28.)  Is barely usable for basic email without attachments.
512 K   BZ $88.  (US $44.)  At this speed the Internet is usable – but is slow during office hours and evenings. Good at 4 a.m.
1 MB    BZ $140. (US $70)  Where am I? Is this real?
2 MB    BZ $240. (US $120.)  Americans, Mexicans and much of the world pay US$9.95 a month for 2MB internet.
4 MB    BZ $390.  (US $195.)  Imagine paying US$195. per month for 4 MB Internet. That’s a car payment.
8 MB   BZ $700.   (US $ 350.) That is a mortgage payment.

For comparison and a very disheartening, TELMEX in our next-door neighbor Mexico offers 10MB ADSL for U.S. $39. a month. If your business or peace of mind depends on reasonably priced Internet access, Belize may not be the place for you.

Please note that BTL’s Upstream speed is capped at 1MB for ALL plans. The company only guarantees 80% of what you are paying for, so effectively your upstream is crippled at between 600KB to 800KB. The upstream cap means slow overall speed especially for video chats, video conferencing, gaming and business Internet users.

You can find independent discussion of Belize Telemedia’s Services on the Facebook Group BTL Customers Petitioning For More Bandwidth For Less Money. This is a free and independent group of Belizeans and expats who joined forces to out some of the company’s business practices and excessive rates. BTL has since put up its own Facebook Fan Page but this is heavily censored. A notice says ” We will gladly REMOVE users who are obnoxious, negative, and have ulterior motives.”

The government controlled monopoly BTL telephone company has recently come forth and offered wireless Internet which is a reasonable alternative starting at US$125. a month for 1 MB. The disadvantage is that it operates much like cable shared service. When the neighborhood is swarming the Internet, everyone’s service slows down to a crawl. Ans since the telephone company is not laying down new telephone lines, most every new subscriber is forced to go wireless further bogging down an overloaded service.

The country’s Prime Minister Mr. Barrow in his 2012 budget speech announced Belize would soon be getting faster Internet at 4 Megs speed for the same price. Problem is his speechwriter confused Cellular 4G with 4 MB Internet – they are not the same and cellular Internet is even more expensive compared to ADSL or CDMA (wireless) Internet access.

We strongly advise seeking out a house with POTS (plain old telephone service) access if possible to enable ADSL service. The best Internet access in Belize for home or business use is through ADSL. The BTL techs are well trained if somewhat overworked but ADSL Internet service is generally well maintained and reasonably fast.

1 or 2 MB service is about the best without going into debt to pay the telephone company. Savvy Belizeans and expats use caching network servers to speed up their Internet access. If this is beyond you, invest in a modern wireless router that allows you to share your Internet access and enable QOS (quality of service) inside the router itself to further maximize your Internet connection.

Wireless Internet Access

Both BTL and SMART offers plans for wireless Internet access. Because SMART has no POTS network, its Internet delivery is via a 3G network for mobile phones, and also via USB dongles you attach to your laptop or desktop computer. SMART sells its bandwidth by the byte only. Various packages are available at its website.

BTL sells wireless access through its EVDO network. A wireless router is provided and you are billed by the month. This service started out with a bang but is now heavily saturated and slow. The company appears to be neglecting this service and perhaps pushing customers to move to its 4G service.

A Visitor’s Experience With WIFI Access in Belize

In Belize, the authorities block Skype, and though my T-Mobile phone connected just fine, voice calls cost $3 a minute and texts were a whopping 35 cents each. On top of that, the local telephone service doesn’t do data, so our phones could use email only when we could connect to Wi-Fi. Fortunately, the hotel and airports had free Wi-Fi; unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly reliable.

But when it came to talking long distance, Apple’s FaceTime filled the gap because my wife’s sisters and our neighbor who was watching our house all have iPads, which kept our phone bill out of the stratosphere.

However, when we tried to do work for the house, like look at examples of flooring, countertops or electrical devices, we found that most sites use Flash. That meant that we were constantly running back to the room for the Ultrabook to actually see what our architect was talking about and respond with critical suggestions or decisions.

We also noticed that the iPad often had trouble connecting to the network. In fact, there were people running around the resort complaining that their iPads weren’t working while the Ultrabook, phones and Kindles seemed to have few issues. This has turned into a common problem when we travel with the iPad: Wi-Fi connectivity seems iffy.

I had lunch with a Cisco engineer a few weeks back and he said that this is a known problem with Apple products and most wireless routers. The fix is to use Apple routers, which apparently provide the best connectivity of any home-class router in the market. Enterprise-class routers from Cisco and others evidently don’t have these problems, but hotels and small foreign airports often use home or small-business products which is why, according to the Cisco engineer, we were seeing this problem.

Rob Enderle is building a home in Belize.