BTC maintaining free voice and data in hurricane-affected areas
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Mobile network service providers Aliv and BTC have until Friday to solidify a roaming agreement which will allow their customers to roam on a synchronized network, with the latter’s chief executive stating that he hoped for an arrangement that would last at least 30 days.
During an interview with Eyewitness News, BTC Chief Executive Garfield “Garry“ Sinclair said, “We have yet to actually to sign an agreement. URCA gave us until Tuesday to implement the actual technical side so that customers and affected customers could actually roam on each other’s network. We got it done on Monday. We were testing over the weekend and we started allowing customers to roam on each other’s network on Monday. We have had a bug here or there and we are overcoming those. URCA said to get an agreement in place by Friday.”
Sinclair added, “We opened up our network and made it free for voice and data for the entire country since last Wednesday. We said we would do that until Sunday and on Sunday we started moving back into recovery and restoration as a number of people had evacuated. We left both voice and data free, just to those affected islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. Obviously, any agreement that we conclude with our competitor, we are hoping will accommodate the fact that we think it is necessary to leave in place a situation where our communities in those two islands continue to be able to communicate both free of charge.”
Sinclair said he hopes to be able to provide that service to the affected islands for at least 30 days.
“We want to keep it that way for at least 30 days from the signing of the agreement, but we are hoping and praying that we get that kind of accommodation from our competitor,” he said. “We are feverishly working to bring our own network back up to the way they were. We may be in a position within 30 days where we are back up and may not need to have roaming agreements between one another. We just thought that out of an abundance of caution and to ensure that our colleagues have the opportunity to connect with loved ones, we think an additional period of 30 days is what we should be going for.”
According to the BTC top executive, the company has temporary mobile resources referred to as cell on wheels (COWS) that have already been erected in Marsh Harbour.
“We have cell service working in eight or nine different communities in and around the Freeport area in Grand Bahama,” he said. “We have got fixed services in Cherokee Sound and Sandy Point in Abaco. We have got a team of contractors from our mobile vendors on the ground both in Abaco and Grand Bahama working around the clock to get us back up and running.”
Sinclair said the company’s infrastructure in hurricane ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama sustained “an incredible amount of damage”. Speaking to the devastation, he said, “Unequivocally this is the worst I have ever seen”.
“We have yet to put a dollar figure to it. Any figure we put to it now would be wild speculation. Unequivocally, this is the worst I have ever seen. I used to run the Caribbean, I used to run Jamaica. This is the worst I have ever seen.
“In Abaco we are at about 10 per cent of our cell tower capacity. We lost about 90 per cent of our cell tower capacity. We are using our COW technology. We are up to 20 per cent capacity. That doesn’t mean coverage. We have improved coverage in populated areas like Marsh Harbour. We are probably covering areas in a wider cross-section of populated areas. In Grand Bahama right after the storm we were operating at about third of our cell tower capacity there. That’s close now to about half and we are continuing to add towers and capabilities every hour of every day.”
According to Sinclair, the company has accounted for 103 of its colleagues both in Grand Bahama and Abaco. “We have evacuated about 160 people, both colleagues and their families mainly from Abaco and a few from Grand Bahama. That was our main focus in the aftermath of the hurricane. That has been largely mission accomplished,” Sinclair said.
This article was written by Senior Business Reporter Natario McKenzie