Among the poorest countries in Central America, Honduras has long been plagued by an unstable political framework which has rendered telecom reform difficult. Reform is critical if the country is to address some of the least impressive market statistics in the region.
The country has been on the cusp of bankruptcy for several years, and though a group of banks had written off US$3.5 billion of debt in 2007 accumulated debt since then has reached US$5 billion. The economic plight has contributed to crises within the government, with no consensus on how to formulate a budget for 2013.
These practical difficulties have had real effects on the country's telecom market. Fixed-line teledensity at only 7% is significantly lower than the Latin American and Caribbean average. Poor fixed-line infrastructure has been exacerbated by low investment and difficulties in local terrain which have made investment in rural areas unattractive or uneconomical. As a consequence, the internet has been slow to develop in Honduras: DSL and cable modem technologies are available but relatively expensive, while higher speed services are largely restricted to the major urban centres. Nevertheless, the demand for broadband is steadily increasing and there are has been some investment in network upgrades to fibre-based infrastructure, though this is restricted to the main cities. Poor fixed-line connectivity has also inhibited the take-up of VoIP, which would otherwise be a preferred communications medium to expensive domestic calls.
On the positive side, these factors have encouraged consumer take-up of mobile services, a sector where there is lively competition supported by international investment and know-how. As a result, mobile penetration is about 20% above the regional average. Revenue from the mobile sector looks promising in coming years as operators invest in their networks, expanding their reach and upgrading their capabilities to accommodate mobile broadband services. Mobile data as a proportion of overall mobile revenue is likely to double in 2013, though low-end SMS services will continue to account for the bulk of data revenue for some years.
Political developments during the last few years have not facilitated the much-needed reform of legislation governing the telecoms sector.
Partly this is due to political stalemate and ineffective legislators, but underlying the difficulties are the close ties between executives at the incumbent Hondutel and key members of the government. Charges of bribery and corruption are rife, and though the framework for reforming the Telecommunications Act remains before the Honduran Congress, there is little prospect of effective change in the short term which would bring about a properly competitive and fair market for some services.
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