THE Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Company (ECTEL) is preparing to take on telecommunications providers over a number of issues that have created stumbling blocks between the two entities over the past years.
Some of those issues have to do with the sharing of information amongst the telecommunications providers pertaining to consumers, number portability, the creation of a single telecommunications space within the OECS, providing quality service to consumers, and opening up telecommunications infrastructure to attract other service providers, among others.
But even while ECTEL gears itself up for a fight, companies like Cable & Wireless and Columbus Communications International, last week celebrated the merger of their Lime and Flow operations, claiming the union was the start of a new and exciting era for telecommunications in the sub-region.
Lime no longer operates in the sub-region having been bought over by Columbus Communications International, the parent company of Flow.
“The new dynamic Flow brand encapsulates everything that is positive about Saint Lucia and the Caribbean; the beauty of the region, the warmth of the people coupled with their passion and drive for growth and development in a culture of excellence where we strive to be the best,” said Geraldine Pitt, Country Manager (St. Lucia) adding that the country stands to benefit from the combined strength of both companies.
ECTEL however sees this differently. Its Council of Ministers who also met here last week made it clear that Cable & Wireless and Columbus Communications International were not conforming to some basic reqests.
They further noted that the companies were unwilling to arrive at a settlement with ECTEL in respect of the merger.
All of this has hastened the desire of the Ministers to put in place legislation that would somehow bring the telecommunications companies into line with some of the basic requests that would improve telecommunications services in the sub-region. Hence the move to accelerate completion of an Electronics Communications Bill for passage through the respective parliaments of the various jurisdictions controlled by ECTEL.
Vincent Byron, ECTEL’s Chairman noted that the Council did peruse the draft bill at last week’s meeting, approved a number of changes to it and agreed to move it forward for speedy implementation as law.
But before the legislation moves into the parliaments of the OECS the treaty that established ECTEL must be amended to accommodate it.
The Council of Ministers also approved another piece of legislation which will be a major weapon against the telecommunications companies. It deals with quality of service regulations.
“In 1998 when we started this process there were no rules for the service providers to follow in respect of technical and administrative qualities. Now legislation will dictate that they do,” Grenada’s Public Utilities Minister Gregory Bowen said.
The Ministers lamented the unwillingness of telecommunications providers to live up to certain advertised promises made such as claiming to operate on 4G networks but not doing so. They say that the regulations coming out of the Electronics Bill will ensure that the service providers meet a certain standard.
“If you advertise that you will give a certain internet speed then maintain that speed. If you cannot provide that speed at 100 percent then we say the minimum should be 90 percent. You must give what you advertise or close to what you advertised,” Bowen said.
“As a Council of Ministers our right is ensure that some of the gains fought so hard for are not eroded. We have to ensure that the rights of consumers are protected,” James Fletcher, Saint Lucia’s Telecommunications Minister said.
Another weapon the Ministers will be wielding against the telecommunications company lies in their operating licences which are up for renewal within six to eight months.
The Ministers admitted that this time around the companies will have to accede to some of their basic requests because incorporated in the new licences to be issued will be certain terms that will ensure quality of service to consumers and other reasonable concessions.
“We are not opposed to them merging. Our interest is in the quality of service consumers get. Our view is that if they are unwilling to do it in a good faith conversation we can mandate through the licences,” CamilloGonsalves from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said.
But for now neither Cable and Wireless nor Columbus Communications appears perturbed by the stance ECTEL has taken. The launch of their newly refreshed retail brand, Flow, across the OECS and the wider Caribbean is now occupying their attention, Saint Lucia being the tenth market to be rebranded.
“This is an exciting new development for the region and more specifically it signals the start of a transformation of our business in St. Lucia,” Pitt said.
She added: “Our renewed focus, putting the customer at the heart of what we do, provides us with a unique opportunity to create a new future in Saint Lucia with Flow. Our customers, employees and partners will experience a totally transformed culture and way of doing business. Our aim is not just to meet but to exceed their expectations as they interact with us on a daily basis.”
Pitt said the Company aimed to deliver the most comprehensive portfolio of telecoms services anywhere in the region, which includes a complete transformation of service delivery that also includes the introduction of a new concept retail store designed to offer customers a new and enhanced experience with all the bells and whistles.
The celebration of the launch of the new Flow brand in Saint Lucia began last Thursday with an employee brand event, followed by an all-day customer appreciation day and a block party at the Gros Islet street event on Friday. The party culminated Saturday with a round the island motorcade.