Once Upon a Time (a Telecom Tale)

A long, long time ago in a land much like this one there was a kingdom called TeleCom and it was led by an aging tyrant. This tyrant’s name was C. W. J. and he was both loved and despised by his people; he only chose to be nice when it suited him and most of the time he was crotchety and mean. The people of TeleCom would complain but the Government would reply that that even though he was a terrible ruler he was the only ruler they had so they had better put up with him. 

Then one day a cold breeze from the north blew in D-Cel, a young and strapping hero who challenged C. W. J. to a duel for the leadership of the land of TeleCom. Because he was a new face (so much prettier than the old, ugly tyrant) and because he made many silver-tongued promises, the people of TeleCom fell madly in love with D-Cel and cheered him on during the long battle with C. W. J. The battle went on and on for years, touching not just the land of TeleCom but also the nearby kingdoms of Ecanami, Colcha and So-Siyiti. 

The battle rages still. 

The word ‘monopoly’ always conjures images of some oppressive dictator bending victims to his will (look at Hitler, JPS) so that the breakdown of any such monopoly will always inspire satisfaction in the minds and hearts of its victims. The outcome of such breaks is often forgotten by the history books (because by that time the chapter has ended), but the impact of the liberalization often stretches further than one first assumes.


The Jamaican government liberalised the telecommunications sector in 2001 with acceptance of bids from Digicel and Flow. The emergence of two new companies would have likely meant an increase in the number of jobs available to the Jamaican populace. Indeed in 2010, Digicel boasted more than 1000 employees (Flow lagging slightly behind at more than five hundred).

The sudden increase in options for communication (cell phones, land lines and the internet) probably opened the doors for deeper interaction with investors both local and foreign, allowing Jamaica to experience more economic growth. It also likely helped that the new companies (and LIME, spurred on by it competition) were investing a lot of money to keep their businesses viable.

Communications expansion also means more avenues for business. The internet has become a thriving field of commerce and now Jamaicans can have a share of that pie.

But 13 years later, the Jamaican economy still isn’t what you’d call thriving. . .


Investing in community projects, education, sports, you name it has become a branding competition among the telecommunications providers. The attention really does benefit the groups it is heaped on and one of the greatest advantages of liberalising this sector has to be the urge these companies have to spend money on people. They’re reaping profits, for sure, but they also give back with relatively willing hearts.

The boost in reliability of our communication (thank you Digicel’s million towers; thank you Flow’s unbeatable online speed) has likely connected families in a way they’ve never been before. The oligopoly that telecom in Jamaica currently sustains forces competition and constant improvement, which is all to the benefit of the consumer. Reliable communication is also a boon to education and even though most of our graduates can’t get hired, at least they can read and write at the tertiary level thanks  to reliability of communication that got them into university and helped them get their degrees.

A downside is that the popularity of cell phones, especially expensive cell phones, means an increase in crime rates. Reported or not, way more cell phones are being stolen now than they were before 2001. Because everyone must have more than one cell phone (to straddle both networks) and because the desire may outstrip the means some people turn to crime to get what they want.


Brand Jamaica is splashed across text messages, across Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Liberalising the telecom sector split us wide open to cultural exchange and export.

The instant exchange of information and our ability to stay connected anytime anywhere (thank you Lime and Digicel 4G networks) helps us keep up with the Joneses in North America. This is a good and a bad thing – we’re always following behind the USA peepeecluckcluck. Do we really need another avenue that lets us do that?

Lastly, I’ve been wondering if the shift towards cell phones and away from landlines (a shift that occurred primarily after liberalisation) makes us more likely to go out instead of sitting at home waiting for a call. This might not be a cultural change so much as a cultural facilitation. It’s a lot easier now to keep in touch when you’re out after 1AM but we’ve been partying late for years, only now we don’t have to miss out on chatting to friends while we do it.

Thanks for reading.


Disclaimer: What I know about telecommunications and economy could fit in a newborn baby’s fingernail. What little I know of society and culture I have inferred from my own meandering experience. Digicel/the Observer asked for a blogging voice. Fiction is my voice. (At most, liberalised fact).


References here, here and here.


I’m not going to talk about Olympics or Usain Bolt or him coming second to Blake or his alleged ankle injury or his propensity for crashing cars and strip clubs.

I’m not going to talk about the ongoing Jamaica 50 controversy or Lisa Hannah or official songs or how politics really have no place in the music industry.

And I’m not going to rant about the recent uproar in Parliament or what kind of examples the politicians are setting or the homophobia that is so deeply ingrained in this country we don’t even notice it any more. Or the colour orange. Or trumpets.

I’d rather leave those things to the serious bloggers like Mr. Veritas or the clever ones like Carla Moore. And because everyone is already talking those topics into the ground so that they’re already almost-clichéd.

I may however, in the future, rant about the hilarity that is Lime vs. Digicel and how I’m being ripped off with this ridiculous new plan.


Mortal Kombat: Lime vs. Digicel

If you don’t already know, Lime and Digicel are the leading network/communications providers on this island. They’re somewhat mismatched rivals, with Lime taking the part of tenacious old-timer and Digicel as the upstart youth.

The fact that I have a phone with the Lime network when most people I know own a Digicel is lamented by all my friends. It’s so much more expensive to call cross-network, and then they can’t text me with their Digicel-only free texts. This is the only reason most people here have three two (Digicel recently bought out Claro) phones.

Usually the networks are in pretty close competition but lately Digicel has been turning up the heat, forcing Lime to step up or step off. Digicel introduced their Gimme 5 promotion, Lime came up with Fave 5 mobile plan. Digicel has bombarded its customers with attractive deals – free calls after 9pm with prepaid calling credit topups of $200 or more; easy ways to check your prepaid credit balance, send credit and even request that credit be sent to you. Lime has been dragging its feet in offering anything remotely similar. The result has been a mass and steady exodus of one-time Lime customers to the newer, hotter Digicel brand, perhaps made even worse by Digicel’s new super-low cross network rate.

That cartoon got it wrong, then. After being the telecommunications Goliath for so many years, Lime is probably about to be slain by their very own David. Attached as I am to my network, this dilemma is all their own doing. They monopolized the Jamaican communications industry for years, barely changing their MO when Digicel appeared on the scene as saviour to the mobile-owning pubic. And now when healthy competition should foster innovation they are letting themselves stagnate, consistently losing business by staying three steps behind their shark-paced rival. Perhaps Lime is content with its loyal clientèle – they’re certainly rich enough to be – but at the rate they’re going I don’t see them reclaiming the Jamaican market any time soon. But I hear they’re big in Trinidad.