Chairman of ECTEL concerned about Cable and Wireless and Columbus Communications merger
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - Attorney General and Minister of Communications, Honourable Vincent Byron Jr. said the Government is concerned about the effects the merger between telecommunications company Cable and Wireless and Columbus Communications to form FLOW will have on the telecommunications market in St. Kitts and Nevis and the wider Eastern Caribbean.
Cable and Wireless, the parent company for LIME, announced in March of this year that it has completed its US$1.85 billion acquisition of 100 per cent of the equity of Columbus Communications Inc., the operators of FLOW. The merger has sparked concerns and debates around the Caribbean that the merger could create a telecommunications monopoly, which was removed in large part with the arrival of DIGICEL as LIME’s main telecommunications competitor in 2001.
Minister Byron, who is also the chairman of ECTEL (Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority), the telecommunications regulatory body for the Eastern Caribbean, said on the Government’s radio programme “Working For You” that the merger is a concern for St. Kitts and Nevis, considering that the Government is majority shareholder in The Cable, the main cable television and internet provider on St. Kitts that competed with LIME. He said the priority should be for consumers of the sub-region to get good quality telecommunications services at an affordable price. The focus of this body within ECTEL is for a level playing field to be created so that the providers of these services can provide quality service at an affordable cost to consumers.
Other concerns that ECTEL will be tackling as well, Mr. Byron noted, include number portability, removal of roaming charges within the sub-region and the free use of over the top services such as Whatsapp. St. Kitts and Nevis, he said has never had FLOW before now, unlike the southern Windward Islands such as Grenada and St. Lucia that had both telecommunications providers. That has now created a monopoly situation, the minister said.
On another note, Minister Byron said it is important of ECTEL member states to have the proper legislative framework in place in order to implement some of these developments in telecommunications.
“One of (these laws) is the Electronic Communication Bill that has been drafting for a number of years but has not been tabled by Parliament and we hope that next year we will be able to have our members introduce that (which) gives us the type of laws in our individual countries to deal with those matters,” Bryon said. It is also the goal over the next five years of ECTEL that every household is connected by broadband technology, that everyone has a smart phone and access to these services.