The Availability, Stability and Price of Internet is Shaping the Future of Roatan
The Bay Island’s internet dates back to the 1990s when Hondutel began providing its 256 bit dial up service. A few years later Trópico Telephone and Internet (TTI), a private company that began offering broadband, was forced out of business in 2008 by Honduran government cracking down on “illegal” ISP providers. Hondutel seized TTI’s property and ran the private, booming company out of business. The road to affordable internet in Honduras was certainly not easy.
Honduras gets its internet from two commercial fiber cables brining in internet from Florida to Omoa. One is Maya 1, owned by Telefónica, laid in 2000, and the other is Arcos, owned by Liberty Cable, laid in 2001. Both cables are coming to the end of their 25-year life cycle and there is another company eyeing the Honduran market. Before reaching Roatan, the cable runs on the ground for 180 kilometers to La Ceiba before it is connected to the cable for Roatan.
In August 2020 BITEL (Bay Islands Telecommunications) installed a 77 kilometer cable from La Ceiba to Roatan. An underwater fiber optic internet cable made operational in October 2020. BITEL is owned by six investors, two of them Roatanians: Kyle McNab and Ron McNab, current Mayor of Roatan Municipality.
Internet and especially fast internet on Roatan are still expensive for an average islander. “Even though you need 15 megabytes in your house you can only afford 5,” says Duane McNab, owner of MaxCom, Roatan’s biggest internet provider. Still, it is not easy to afford a service that cost $75 for 5g when an average salary in Honduras is just $423.
Max Communications went from a “Chiclet money business” for Duane McNab’s father in the off-fishing season to a communications company employing 75 people. The company traces its beginnings to the 1980s in Oak Ridge. “His main priority was to get live TV so he could watch Mike Tyson box,” Says Duane McNab remembering the early days. So, in the 1980s SatMc Cable Company was created. “I had a guy changing VHS content every day, so people had something to watch on TV,” said Duane McNab. Eventually a Galaxy 5 satellite was re-positioned to service Roatan and live transmission of 13 channels began in 1990.
In 2006 Duane McNab took over control of the company that his father launched. Since then, Max Cable has grown in leaps and bounds buying out smaller internet and cable providers that focused on smaller markets on the island: Island Cable, Global net’s Roatan operations and Televa Alma in 2011, and in 2012 Cable Color.
According to McNab, in 2013-14 The Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (CONATEL), a Honduran government entity regulating communications, forced a decrease in internet prices on operators in the country. “It was so much per gigabyte, period,” said McNab. “With this set price we can budget. We know there is not going to be a change tomorrow or next month,” said McNab. “Even though we sell data to you at unlimited use, we pay per consumption.”
BITEL installed a 77 kilometer cable from La Ceiba to Roatan.
By 2012 Max Communications formed an alliance with Cable Color. “We purchased bandwidth together to have a discounted price,” says McNab. It purchased D&D Utila ISP company and in April 2020 they plan to lay down fiber in Utila.
Max Communications has been growing in leaps and bounds adding over 300 accounts in December 2019 and the first two months of 2020. “It’s a stable business, but not as lucrative business as many people would think,” says McNab. “You have to have a large amount of clients for it to be a lucrative business.”
MaxCom has been growing to become one of the biggest employers on the island, top ten. After Sun Corporation, Municipality, RECO and Galaxy. The company manages five offices, four towers and 10 repeaters. “I’m here every day at 7:30am,” says McNab. MaxCom has the biggest share of Roatan’s internet providers of the total 13,600 homes on Roatan. On Guanaja MaxCom partnered with Jackson’s cable a local company. There are 1,274 homes on Utila, 3,400 homes on Guanaja, and McNab has even investigated expanding its operations to the Cayman Islands.
But there are several companies staying in site of MaxCom. Especially competitive on the island market is Fibernet owned by the Dip family who also owns Sat Vision in La Ceiba. The other internet providers on Roatan are Claro, Tigo, Reytel, Netman and Mopleco Vision. The cost of entry to Roatan’s ISP’s market are quite small. “We have too many players,” said McNab. “We are the oldest and the only islander owned internet company on the island.”
Max Communications has been growing in leaps and bounds.
As availability of internet is spreading across Roatan, the speed of the connections are also increasing. “5G is about to hit the world market, it’s inevitable,” said McNab. “It’s going to use higher frequencies. We are not going to know how this affects the human body until the time passes,” said McNab.
5G is on the horizon on Roatan as well. “Obviously Tigo and Claro will bring it, it’s definitely coming, but it’s a very expensive technology so it will take a few years,” says Mitch Cummins who owns Paradise Computers. Paradise Computers, a technical services company, was first to bring high speed interned to the island in 2002. “The normal patterns is to be three to five years behind US,” says Cummins.
Cummins believes that the most exciting thing on the horizon is Elon Musk’s Star link, announced to be coming to Honduras in 2023. “That will be a game changer, especially in rural areas,” says Cummins.