In addition to the tropical vegetation, high humidity and intense sunlight, one difficult to miss sign that one is no longer in one of the so called richer countries is the size of the satellite dishes that some people have in their backyard.

Big Satellite Dish in residential area in Trinidad

The residential satellite dishes have to be of sufficient size in order to collect feeds from the periphery of the area where American television satellites are aiming their signal. It is fortuitous that Caribbean countries such as Trinidad are geographically close enough to mainland USA to make this possible. Anyone who can afford the hardware can see almost everything that Americans watch on television, including most of that shown on cable. Less than a decade ago, satellite piracy became a thriving domestic industry, spawning a handful of cable companies who would maintain a cluster of dishes of varying size, aimed at a number of satellites, and piping the signals to residences who would gladly pay for the ability to watch American entertainment without having to tear up their backyard. Few cared about the legality of the process. For years I was able to watch the commercial free movie channels for a small monthly fee that was far below what most Americans were paying.

The local cable package included most of the major terrestrial networks and 24 hour cable news. Yes, that includes FoxNews. Sometimes I wonder if the leniency with which these news companies have demonstrated, when enforcing the copyright on their video feeds in the Caribbean, can be partly explained by some wider initiative to keep feeding propaganda to any nation that would accept pro-US messages willingly. One of the local television channels fills a significant proportion of their schedule with Voice of America programming. Of course this can cut both ways. We also get the Comedy Channel, and last week I was able to see the last Daily Show (with Jon Stewart) of 2006, featuring a self contradicting Bush. Viewing the complete show on cable is at least as humorous as watching the video clips. However I’m unsure whether many Trinidadian viewers will perceive this show to be a serious counter to the mainstream news channels. To their credit, the telecommunication infrastructure is in a state of rapid development. The biggest cable company, Flow, is converting their cable networks to digital and are showing signs of going legit. They have been negotiating broadcasting rights to many of the video feeds and will be charging more for certain channels. And since the two years ago when I last visited there has been a dramatic change to the skyline. The twin island republic has become littered with mobile phone towers.

Residential Cellphone Antennas

This one is less than 200m from where I am now typing this.

Unfortunately, the broadband still sucks bigtime. The bandwidth is low and unreliable and over priced. No doubt this will improve over the next few years and perhaps in the not so distant future the people of Trinidad and Tobago will discover the world that is beyond what is fed to them via American television.