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Service providers must respond to complaints


As modernity catches up with even small, underdeveloped states, a number of fundamental changes take place in the economy. Historically, the small states of the Caribbean conformed to their original purpose under colonial rule, that of providing the colonial power with, primarily, raw material. We became commodity-based economies, supplying the colonial powers with cheap exports, whether it be sugar, cotton, rice or bananas.{{more}}

However, as changes took place in the global economy, so too have we been forced to adapt, at times engaging in the export of services, mainly in the form of human labour, to suit external demands. Though our economies remained based on commodity exports, the Caribbean supplied labour to work in the cane fields of Cuba and Santo Domingo (more correctly, the Dominican Republic), to build the Panama Canal and to solve Britain’s acute labour shortage after the Second World War.

In recent times the technological revolution, as well as global commodity trade challenges have ushered in forced changes in the nature of our economies. Almost overnight, without quite realizing it, we have become largely service economies, more dependent on the provision of services, tourism in particular, than goods.

These changes in turn bring with them changes in expectations and the quality of services we provide. In the same way that the production of goods places responsibility on producers to supply those of high quality, so too does service provision make equal demands on providers.

The problem that we face is that in some areas, telecommunications for instance, our relative inexperience and the relative strength of near monopoly foreign providers often leave us at the mercy of these giants, opening the door to powerful providers virtually riding roughshod over consumers. It places great responsibility on Caribbean states individually and collectively, to develop the appropriate regulatory framework to ensure protection of their citizens. One worrying trend has been that of merging large foreign operations, giving them almost a monopoly stranglehold in small economies.

It was for this reason that the Eastern Caribbean states not only instituted their respective National Telecommunications Regulatory Commissions (NTRCs), as well as the sub-regional Eastern Caribbean Telecommunication Commission (ECTEL). Those bodies are charged with striking a balance between the interests of consumers and service providers.

The major telecommunication service providers have made significant contributions towards modernizing our means of communication, and for that they must be credited. But it is also true that there are areas of major concern, both to consumers and to workers employed in the industry, arising from conglomeration and the temptation to place profit before the interest of the community as a whole.

The merger of Columbus Communications and LIME (Cable and Wireless), to create FLOW for instance, has given rise to concerns throughout the region, being opposed in some quarters and still to win the final blessing of some regulatory authorities, ECTEL for instance. Here at home, complaints about the level of service provided have been growing, with many consumers seemingly convinced that their interests are taking second place and their complaints ignored. The quality of Internet service, in particular, has been a regular complaint, as well as the tardiness or downright failure to attend to complaints made.

Just as our farmers have been forced to adapt to new realities as regards the quality of their product, so too must service providers face up to their responsibility to provide reliable service of quality to consumers and our regulatory bodies must insist that this must be the case. Service is the operative word and responsiveness to those whom one serves must become paramount.