Competition in the telecommunications sector in Solomon Islands has officially arrived. bemobile held its launching ceremony on Aug 31, making it the first competitor to Solomon Telekom (known as “Our Telekom”) effectively ending the previous monopoly. This is the result of the Government’s policy of reforming the telecoms market in Solomon Islands including promoting competition, developing a new legal framework, and setting up a new regulator, the Telecommunications Commission of Solomon Islands (TCSI) .
The energy and exuberance within the capital, Honiara, was palpable as hundreds of people took to the streets to witness the initial rollout of bemobile’s network to 25 percent of the population. Throughout Honiara, people were celebrating the beginning of a new era in communications. Solomon Telekom, for its part, has been slashing prices and offering special promotions to attract additional customers.
Solomon Islands has a population of over half-a-million and is spread over 997 islands. About 85 percent of the population lives in rural areas. As such, telecommunications are essential in Solomon Islands and critical in keeping families together and businesses functioning. This adds to the importance of maintaining reliable and cheaper telecommunications.
It is hoped that competition in the industry will bring faster, cheaper, and more reliable connectivity. It was often the case that network coverage would be disrupted over the entire capital for up to a day at a time and people from almost all sectors of society complained of the high cost of calls to family in the provinces or overseas. However, improvements have already been noticed within these areas. The reliability of connections has improved immensely as more competitive call costs are being introduced.
With the arrival of competition, a price war has begun between the two providers. Both operators say this is just the beginning and improvements in service delivery, reliability, and prices will result in clear benefits for Solomon Islanders.
Starting April 2011, the telecoms market—including mobile and internet—will be completely open to competition.
People have already felt the benefits of competition. Anna Aniquai, of Honiara, said that previously, she would only be able to afford calling her father in Malaita Province for a short period once a week. Now that she has noticed prices dropping and coverage improving she is able to speak for longer, and more often, to loved ones in the provinces.
On the day bemobile launched its network I met Karen—a local small scale tourism operator who was checking the price differences between the competitors.
“Over the years, we did not care to know how much Our Telekom was charging us because there was no alternative product or mobile service to choose from. But with the arrival of bemobile, we are now free to make a choice between the services and products of two companies—at least for now. We hope the government will soon open the market to a third entrant”, she said.
The implementation of competition in Solomon Island is the result of a Pacific wide program, led by Governments, with technical assistance from the World Bank and AusAID, and also involving many other partner institutions and regional organisations. The program aims to improve connectivity throughout the region: to improve access and affordability of telecommunications, and stimulate new opportunities.
World Bank/AusAID and RAMSI-supported technical assistance in the telecommunications sector in Solomon Islands helped the government to end the former telecommunications monopoly, introduce fair competition, and create a telecommunications commission to regulate competition. A follow-up project, jointly financed by the WB and AusAID, will also help the Solomon Islands government in designing a program to increase the spread of communications to rural areas. All of these areas will prove essential in increasing telecommunications use throughout the Pacific while enabling families to stay in touch, emergencies to be reported, and businesses to operate better than ever before.