Dear Times,

In the six months that I have been back in Honiara one of the more disappointing aspects of life here is the egregious performance of "Our Telekom". Years ago, when SolTel and the Posts & Telecommunications Department respectively ran the international and domestic telecommunications, service was expensive (as it is today) but it was service as good as anywhere in the world.

Today, the office that I work in most of the time pays "Our Telekom" for a 512k Internet connection. In six months of measuring the connection's speed, I've not seen the service above 60% of what the office is paying for. The connection is usually around 20-40% of the speed the office is paying for. And very often the service is slower than dial-up and suffers from frequent disconnects that make downloading larger files difficult.

When we lived in Vanuatu we found Telekom Blong Vanuatu (TBV) expensive too (it has three owners looking for some of the profits). While TBV's service was expensive, it was delivered mostly as advertised and almost never broke down. When repairs or upgrades were needed, TBV told/tells the public of them at least 48 in advance (via e-mail and news releases).

When we lived in the Philippines the last few years, we found telecommunications there to be a regulated and open industry--we could get both cable TV (with about 40 channels, only four of which were sports channels) and 512k Internet access for PHP1,300/month. That's about SBD250/month. For both cable TV and Internet. And mobile phone SIM cards only cost two to two-and-a half US dollars (sixteen to twenty SBD).

There are to points to all of this:

- One, if an unregulated telecommunications monopoly is to exist, it must provide good service, especially when it is expensive when compared to world telecom costs.

- Two, a regulated and competitive telecommunications industry benefits a country much more than a single telecommunications monopoly--that is to say: light regulation and competition keep such firms lean and fit.

It is possible to ask all sorts of questions about telecommunications services here. But the basic question seems to be: When will customers be provided with all that they are paying for?

Thanks & regards,

Chuck Kick