One concern of moving to Jamaica is the efficiency of its utilities. I will focus on Cable & Wireless, (C&W), for phone and internet service, National Water Commission, (NWC), for piped water only, and Jamaica Public Service Company, (JPSCO), for electrical service. All of my comments are based on over six years of experience living in Montego Bay and do not necessarily reflect those of other communities islandwide.
C&W, now branded as LIME, which is an acronym for landline, internet, mobile, and entertainment, is my source for phones, both landline and mobile, and internet access. Their services have been fairly good over the past few years but that wasn’t always the case. The fixed line has had quite a bit of static over the years and still has its moments of noisy reception. The major problem I had was with the internet. Originally our service was dial-up and attracted a phone line fee. Between the slow speed and cost per minute to be connected, the computer wasn’t used as much as it is today. Several years ago, the service was upgraded to ADSL at 128 kps with no line charge. Faster speeds were available for an additional charge. That worked well for a time until competition forced them to double the basic speed to 256 kps. This is when my trouble started. No matter what their technicians did, I never came close to the new speed. The root problem was old telephone lines with exchanges scattered all over town, according to them. The solution created a new centralized exchange for my and other adjoining communities. Since that time service has been pretty good. I do experience loss of service from time to time but usually not for more than a day or two.
The cost for my fixed phone line with 60 free minutes and unlimited internet access is around US $44.00 per month. Included in the amount are rental charges, in-touch voice mail, and Classic Saver/Call Manager Saver. Charges for minutes beyond the first 60 are also added to the bill. C&W, who had a monopoly for years, is feeling pressure from a competitor, Flow, who provides the same service at a higher technology.
Water is provided by the NWC. Even though I am only 4 miles from the center of town, my potable water is from a well at the entrance of the community. This well also services at least two other communities and is maintained by the NWC. Our independent water source is more troublesome than the main system downtown. There have numerous instances where piped water to my house have been non-existent for days and even weeks at a time. The majority of the problems have been from a malfunctioning pump. Most homeowners have either cement or plastic tanks to store their water in for times like these. Even so, water has had to been trucked to replenish the empty tanks until the outage has been repaired.
My reserve tank is different from most others in that my capacity is nearly two thousand gallons compared to less than half of that for my neighbors. These people must manually switch from the piped system to their reserve tank when piped water no longer is running. This also means boiling their water for consumption, an added expense. My reserve tank is connected directly to the incoming water line which then feeds the house. I have no worry about contaminated water as it is continually being exchanged.
Water is inexpensive in Jamaica. My average water consumption is around 6,000 liters per month at a rate of JA $32.20 per thousand liters or US $3.65. Cheap, huh? Not so fast! The additional service charge and fees add another US $6.45. How many of you can say you pay $10.00 a month for piped water?
Finally, we have JPSCO, our power company. They are the least efficient of all the utilities. Battery back-ups for computers are a must if you don’t want to lose all your work in progress. Most of the problems come from annoying glitches, fractions of a second when current ceases to flow to the computer, microwave, and everything else electric. These glitches are not something that happen on rare occasions. Often there are 5 or 6 per day. Sometimes I go days without one or there are instances where they happen daily for a period of time. No explanation has ever been given for these inconveniences, either.
Another problem is extended periods of time without any power at all. Many years ago, a representative of JPSCO, was a guest speaker at one of our monthly community meetings. She brought out then that our community was growing and there weren’t enough transformers to handle the demand. To my knowledge this situation has never been rectified. We continue to experience transformers exploding in what seems to be every month or so leaving us without power for several hours. As I write this article, another outage occurred nearly four hours ago. All is not lost though. JPSCO has a service guarantee that power will be restored in six hours or less under normal circumstances. Should the outage surpass that period of time, they will pay the customer JA $1,000 through a claims process. In addition, should they fail to resolve the claim within 45 days, they will pay an additional JA $1,000. I must point out I submitted three such claims about two years ago but have never received any payment despite numerous phone calls to them and their regulatory agency.
Where water is cheap, electricity is expensive. The first 100 kwh is billed at US $0.008 per kwh. I use between 200 – 250 kwh per month for a cost of US $25.80. Sounds good, huh? Like the NWC, there are additional fees to be paid, mostly for the fuel for the generators. The month I am using in this example, the other charges amounted to US $58.70, for a total bill of US $84.50. Perhaps this is even less than what you are paying.
As you can see, none of these utilities are problem free. The strange thing is when there is a community wide outage on any of them, everyone assumes someone else has called the utility when in fact no one has called. When I asked a neighbor why he didn’t make the call, his answer was, “It’ll soon come back.” When a Jamaican says “soon come back”, that could mean it’ll never happen. Another interesting fact about the utilities is, none of them send out monthly bills on time or at all, but yet you are required to pay them by the due date or be subject to disconnection.
(The power outage I mentioned above lasted five and a half hours, just a half hour short of their guaranteed repair time. In addition to this, while I dictated the article to my wife, two glitches occurred. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a battery back-up on my computer, thus we lost everything to that point. After those two glitches we decided to wait for another day to write this article. This was a wise decision as we experienced two more later in the day.) Later…