SABA — The Island Council had a meeting about the Saba Telephone Company Satel NV on Tuesday, July 26 to discuss the direction of the government owned company and the investments that it is making to improve the service for the Saba people.
Tuesday’s meeting was a follow-up to an earlier meeting that took place on March 31 this year during which the Island Council posed 23 detailed questions about Satel’s service, operations and future plans. The Island Council specifically asked for a 5-year plan. Satel representative Tim van Oosteren provided answers to these questions and gave an insight into the 5-year plan during the July 26 meeting. The Island Council is critical of Satel, the sole internet provider on the island.
Van Oosteren during Tuesday’s meeting announced that Satel was working the deployment of a cellular network which should be ready in 2023/2024. Once in place, the cellular network will provide island-wide data and voice coverage, all in one package, both at home and on the go.
People will buy one product which provides internet at home and also on their mobile device outside the home. Instead of having one connection at home and a separate one or two subscriptions for their mobile phone. This will lead to major savings for customers.
The cellular network will have multiple other advantages besides savings for consumers, Van Oosteren explained. It will provide more capacity, greater speed for consumers. And, there will be no data caps and unlimited voice.
Four main sites have been chosen for the antennas of the new cellular network: Mount Scenery, The Bottom, Windwardside and Zion’s Hill. Smaller antenna sites will be placed in Fort Bay and Well’s Bay to ensure 100% coverage. “With the cellular network, we will solve the hurdle of the last mile to the customer,” said Van Oosteren.
Having complete coverage also resolves the major emergency issues. With the new system, the most northern side of the island and the coastal line will be covered. This means that hikers in the northern area can call in case of an emergency and better coverage for boats in the coastal areas.
Internet to homes and businesses on Saba is currently provided through a copper, DSL cable. The maintenance of this DSL system is much higher than the cellular network. Besides moving towards a network with lower maintenance costs, the new cellular network will be easier to repair because shelve spares will be on-island, enabling quick repairs instead of having to wait for spare parts from outside.
The Island Council members who were present at Tuesday’s meeting, Vito Charles, Carl Buncamper and Eviton Heyliger, stressed on the importance of the accessibility of internet. “Every household should be able to get good internet at an affordable price,” said Charles. Van Oosteren said that with the new cellular network, this would be accomplished with a higher speed and lower costs for the consumer.
In 2024/2025, Satel plans to deploy fiber optic cable around the island. This will require a major investment and will take several years, also because all cables, up to the homes, have to be placed underground. For now, Satel focuses on the cellular network which was considered as the best option, because it is faster and cheaper to put in place.
In 2021, a smaller investment was done as an interim solution to upgrade the network. Van Oosteren explained that this investment has increased the network speed. When the interim solution was put in place there were some problems which took some time to resolve. However, the majority of the issues have been resolved and the network is more stable with some minor problems left to resolve.
Responding to several questions of the Island Council about customer service, including the system to file complaints, Van Oosteren said he agreed that communication with customers needed to get better. “We are working on that. We have increased contact with our customers, but there is definitely room for improvement,” he said.
The Island Council asked for more communication and transparency with Satel’s shareholder, the Public Entity Saba. Buncamper and Charles said that Satel should more involve the shareholder to achieve a certain standard and to assist in arranging financial assistance to accomplish such. Heyliger said the Island Council for years has been asking for more transparency and communication between Satel and its shareholder. It was agreed at the end of the meeting that there will be more periodical meetings of the Island Council with Satel.