Recently, The Daily Herald reported that Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk informed the Dutch Parliament, that the construction of the optic fibre cable that connects St. Eustatius and Saba to the international optic fibre cable in St. Maarten, St. Kitts and St. Barths was successfully completed. He stated that the internet prices have gone down for St. Eustatius and Saba since the islands have been connected to the international optic fibre cable structure on surrounding islands. In his paper to the Second Chamber he wrote that the purchasing tariffs for the the local telecom operators, i.e. SATEL on Saba and Eutel on Statia, have been reduced from more than US $400 per Mbit to less than US $40 per Mbit.
What do the Satel’s clients gain from the cable?
Technically, the replacement of the microwave link by the optic fibre cable offered the possibility to significantly increase the speed of the internet. Today, it is possible to have reasonable quality digital TV reception via the internet. However, this requires a high speed connection. Satel offers three internet packages varying from $ 55 to $160/month. The only differences are the maximum speeds achievable. These vary between 1.5 Mbit/sec and 5 Mbit/sec.
When the optic fibre cable became operational, SATEL decided to keep the package prices the same, but increased the internet speed. In fact, for the most expensive package, the speed increased 330% at the same cost for the client.
How does this compare with our peers?
The internet data on Saba can flow via St. Maarten and/or St. Kitts. The costs residents on these islands pay for a comparable service is significantly different from the cost on Saba. On St. Maarten a residential connection of 6Mbit/sec from SXM Cable will cost you only 50% of the Satel price and on St. Kitts only 25% (note that the price listed is in East Caribbean Dollars, not USD). But on Statia, Eutel charges almost double compared to Saba: $285/month for 5Mbit/sec connection!!!!
The cost of the internet connection forced the Gewendoline van Putten School to ask the help from the National Ombudsman to get their cost reduced because the school is unable to afford USD 5,000 per month for an internet speed of 100 MBit/sec, which Eutel can now offer without making a profit.
In the continental Netherlands? Ziggo delivers 40Mbit/sec for $44/month. Also the Bonaire residents are significantly better off than Saba and Statia: Flamingo delivers 5 Mbits/sec for $53.50, i.e. one third of the price Satel charges for the same service.
When considering these large differences in internet service costs between the islands, one may wonder to what extent the Dutch Statistics Institute, CBS, includes these in their cost of living statistics. The elevated cost of internet services has a high impact on the cost of living on Saba and Statia.
Progress on Saba
Satel’s managing Director Jennifer Zagers explained the evolution of the internet services on Saba. The graph depicts the evolution over time of data cost and connection speeds for SATEL’s clients.
In effect, the cost of data per megabit has decreased but the volume of data that can be downloaded in a given time has increased significantly with the result that the monthly costs for clients remains the same.
Where is the problem?
The sea cable is fully operational and is in use by the telecom providers in St. Eustatius and Saba. However, the exploitation is in the hands of Saba Statia Cable System SSCS of which the shares are managed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK.
For many people the current situation is not quite what was suggested by RCN when they announced the cable project.
What needs to be changed?
One of the limitations facing Saba and SATEL is that they do not have access to any capacity on the fiber network. All capacity must be purchased from other carriers, two of which are located in St Maarten. This adds additional cost to access the fiber cable. Coupled with the limitation of having to purchasing bandwidth from companies in St Maarten or St Kitt’s, restricts the overall savings.
This situation could be improved if Saba would have access to its own capacity on the fiber network. That would bring Satel some additional negotiating power. Potentially this could dramatically lower costs to the people of Saba. SATEL and the Island Government continue to have ongoing discussions in an attempt to acquire this access.
Yet, Plasterk stated that the point of departure of this “not for profit” exploitation of SSCS was an efficient management aimed at continuity and with healthy business economic principles.
It is a pity that Plasterk has not used the opportunity to inform the Second Chamber correctly about the factual situation on Saba and Statia.
You can get an estimate of your current internet speed by running the test from this site.