Race to the finish for TV competitors

Caymanian company C3 joins battle for supremacy

Cayman’s four telecommunications companies are in the midst of an infrastructure race to build “fiber to home” networks that will enable them to offer high-definition television and high-speed Internet to customers across Cayman. 

Local startup C3 became the latest company to join the increasingly competitive market last month when it began selling home phone, TV and Internet packages in George Town. 

Lime, Logic and WestStar are all rolling out similar infrastructure upgrades simultaneously and offer packages for sale in parts of the island, though no provider currently has the capacity to reach every home in Cayman. 

Fiber to home is considered the next generation of television and Internet infrastructure, enabling customers to access Internet speeds around 10 times faster than what was previously available, as well as high-definition television. 

Caymanian businessman Randy Merren, who launched C3, said the race to get the fiber network in place would be crucial in determining which company was ultimately able to dominate the market. 

“That is the number one thing that will be key to getting the customer. Keeping them is a different thing. If your service isn’t good enough, it is going to be churned out.  

“We want to build as fast as we can, turn on as many as we can, but we want to do it right,” Mr. Merren said. 

C3, which is the trading name of Infinity Broadband, estimates it will be able to reach 7,000 dwelling units – around a quarter of Cayman – by the end of the month. The company hopes to have access to Bodden Town and Savannah at least by the end of the year. Infinity Broadband is backed entirely by Caymanian investors, and financial services minister Wayne Panton is listed as a director in his declaration of financial interests, required for legislators. 

No-one from Logic, Lime or WestStar responded to questions on the state of their own fiber to home projects.  

WestStar is understood to be attempting to lay underground cable, while each of the other three companies has been granted access to Caribbean Utilities Company’s network of telegraph poles, something that should enable them to put the cable network in place quickly and more cheaply. 

The scramble for work crews to get on the poles is also a limiting factor, Mr. Merren acknowledged, with all three companies and CUC using the same network. 

The technology is expected to transform home entertainment in Cayman, though whether the market can sustain four competing companies offering essentially the same product is a matter of debate. 

“You have got to anticipate there will be some consolidation in the market,” admitted Mr. Merren, though he believes there will always be at least three players involved. 

“Just because there are three providers that doesn’t mean they will all be always providing the triple play service – you might find one might just decide to specialize in broadband, for instance, and not stay in the television business.” 

C3, which has also invested in a satellite farm on Walkers Road, believes it will have more control over the quality of its television product than rivals who pipe the signal in from the U.S. 

Crystal Gomez, marketing manager at C3, said the company is also hoping that Caymanians would support a local firm, with a more personal customer service. 

“We are the only company that is locally owned, locally operated, we are positioning ourselves as Cayman’s own fiber-optic network. We are a very small company but that has nothing to do with how mighty we will be eventually,” Mr. Gomez said. 

One issue that remains unresolved as more television companies enter the market is the requirement to carry local television content. The Information and Communication Technology Authority is in the midst of a public consultation over where to set the bar for local content, with WestStar pushing for a more rigorous definition of what qualifies as local programming. 

Mr. Merren says he is willing to pay to carry CITN but has little interest in starting a new local television channel. So far, he has been unable to come to an agreement with WestStar over the price of carrying the channel and believes the fee should be independently set by the ICTA and should help offset the costs associated with free transmission of the channel, rather than be a source of additional profit for WestStar. 

“If the ICTA takes the position that we have to have our own channel, then that’s what we have to do but it’s a $3 million revenue market – if you cut that in four, we are all going to lose out. You will have quantity but the quality will suffer,” he said. 

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Businessman Randy Merren launched the C3 fiber-optic network last month. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER
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