BitDepth 471 - May 03

Green Dot joins the broadband market with a product based on wireless transmission.
Smart choices about broadband

Khaleel Ahmad and Ketal Patel of Green Dot. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

I'm feeling very vulnerable these days now that TSTT owns my telephone service at home, in my pocket and to the Internet.
Their "SmartChoice" ad blitz makes me even queasier. Those fetching ads featuring the ever radiant Wendy Fitzwilliam in a state of apparently post-communicative ecstasy, her phone dangling from limp fingers, made me think about switching my standard telephone plan (See Thinking smart).
I'm in this position of almost total dependence on TSTT after some long and agonised thinking about my three years with CCTT's Fiberline. The customer support was exceptional, but the "little guys" who answered my calls when the cost-benefit analysis didn't hold up couldn't answer my questions about the Fiberline business plan to compete with TSTT's aggressive promotion of DSL.
As it turned out, the big guys didn't give a damn. I called both CCTT's Chief Technical Officer and GM asking for a conversation about the matter and neither deigned to call back, so the day after TSTT hooked up my DSL, I wrote one of "those" letters and brought my cable modem back in a plastic grocery bag.

Before choosing TSTT, I made one last stab at supporting the competition with a call to Carib-link, but their wireless service was a whopping TT$650, half again as much as I was paying already.
I understand Carib-link's problem. There are only so many ways to deliver an Internet service to subscribers and theirs is one of the more expensive ones. TSTT owns the copperwire that runs to your house and while they can't stop other ISPs from using it, they can make their own service so cost appealing that it becomes a no-brainer for potential customers.
CCTT owns the cable connection and after a brief period of jointly selling it with Carib-link, they are now the only cable access provider.
For anyone else interested in the broadband market, the only option that's left is broadcasting the signal, and that means setting up a receiver for every customer.
Installing broadband is eventually going to be a consideration for more and more Internet home users. This is the landscape I found when I decided to make a change.

Broadband choices distilled.
Green Dot, a new provider who set up shop right around the corner from me (with a good slingshot I can hit their roof), just missed my shopping circuit. Run by two young entrepreneurs, Khaleel Ahmad and Ketan Patel, they have enjoyed a good business start via word-of-mouth and emphasise finely tiered pricing and responsive customer service.
"Trinidad is just too small to offer bad service," says Patel.
Green Dot uses antenna to antenna radio frequency signals for their service and delivers the signal using repeater sites along the east-west corridor from Diego Martin/Carenage to Arima. By the official launch on May 05, they hope to have added Southern links all the way down to La Romain and Gasparillo. Sangre Grande and Tobago are planned for July this year. Residential rate is $375 per month.

CCTT-Fiberline was my ISP of choice for three years and offers great customer service. I left because of unresponsive management; a trend of spotty service in my area as surges and drops in access speeds followed the fortunes of the Voice over IP call centres who dipped into the shared pool of bandwidth according to the threat level being posed by the RIC and TSTT.
TSTT took more than a month to fix a line problem to my substation but the hookup was effortless. Their current Speedstream modem has a built in router, which can save you some extra money if you want to share the connection with a second computer in the house (you'll need to buy an ethernet hub or switch). Price is on par with Fiberline ($400) but TSTT offers discounts for longer contracts and signing up with the controversial SmartChoice plan. There's no support after hours though, and when I had to reset my modem, I had to call on a COB (child of buddy) to walk me through it.
Carib-link didn't seem very interested in my business once they heard it would be for residential broadband. Their monthly cost of $650 strongly suggests that they're aren't really competing in the market.

Thinking smart about dialup.
TSTT's SmartChoice has one sting in the tail for current dialup customers who are signed up with what the phone company delicately describes as "independent" ISPs.
For non-TSTT dialup customers, the cost of a phone call jumps from a flat rate of 23 cents for a local call to 20 cents per minute. The rate hike doesn't apply to regular phone calls, only to Internet connections and represents what TSTT Market Development Manager Brian Clark describes as "the true cost of providing the service."
"It's worth noting," Clark said, "that if a customer pays more for a non-local call to their ISP, they may pay less, not more. We've offered independent ISPs a toll-free service that matches ours at an attractive and much reduced rate, but there's been no response."
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