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ECTEL has no power to stop LIME, Flow merger – Official

ECTEL has no power to stop LIME, Flow merger – Official

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At the public consultation and panel discussion held yesterday on the proposed merger between Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) and Columbus Communi­cations, the managing director of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommuni­cations Authority (ECTEL) acknowledged that the regulatory body doesn’t have much sway in determining whether the merger goes ahead or not.{{more}}

Embert Charles was speaking at the event, which took place yesterday at the Methodist Church Hall, and was hosted by the Ministry of Information Technology in conjunction with the National Telecommuni­cation Regulatory Commission (NTRC) and the SVG Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

“There is very little we can do as far as the merger is concerned at the higher level,” said Charles. “Consolidation has been rapidly increasing in all sectors of the economy – telecommunications is no different.”

He also pointed out that ECTEL currently does not have the framework in place to be able to cope with such a merger, even if it possessed the authority to influence it.

In his presentation, Charles spoke of the history of corporate mergers and acquisitions in the region from 2002 to present day, acknowledging the advantages and disadvantages of such. He further went on to say that although CWC has presented its case to ECTEL, there has been no formal application submitted, as it is not required.

In introductory remarks, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Commerce and Information Technology Camillo Gonsalves acknowledged that while LIME and Flow have proven themselves to be “excellent corporate citizens,” he is very much aware of (and shares) the concerns of public in regard to this impending monopoly.

“I hope the entities that are merging can address these concerns,” he shared.

Gonsalves also pointed out that in terms of dissatisfaction with either company’s broadband services, in a “post merger world”, consumers would have no competition to switch to.

“I, as the consumer, like to feel that I have the option to go elsewhere with my business… we do need some level of competition!”

Representatives from both CWC and Columbus Communications were also panelists at the discussion/consultation – head of government relations(CWC) Chris Dehring and chief operational officer John Reid (Columbus).

They assured the audience that the merger would benefit local consumers – not result in a repeat of the past when consumers suffered under Cable & Wireless as the sole telecommunications licence holder in the region.

Dehring insisted that the CWC has “nothing to hide,” as it is a publicly listed company; and the various stakeholders should come together to collectively address the issue of getting broadband into every home, as opposed to trying to prevent the merger.

Reid, who explained that Columbus Communications is committed to making significant investments in SVG, said: “Investment creates jobs, [which] creates growth.”

He said that the merger would also allow the companies to put out a product that would feel unique to Vincentians and other Caribbean nationals.

David Geary, regional director Legal & Regulatory at Digicel Eastern Caribbean spoke on the negative impact mergers can have on regions such as the Caribbean. He pointed out that CWC spent US$3 billion on this merger, and would seek to recoup that money – with the likely source being consumers’ pockets.

He called on the regional ministers and regulators to be extremely vigilant in the process, as the consumers and the regional competition would be the ones to suffer.

“The time to protect the consumer is now, before the merger takes place!”

Also on the panel were Apollo Knights, director at the NTRC; Tony Regisford, executive director of the SVG Chamber of Industry and Commerce; Stephen Joachim, representing the business community; and Junior Bacchus, president of the National Consumers Association.

In their various presentations, they all expressed concern over the potential pitfalls of the proposed merger, whilst being mindful that said merger could be beneficial to locals.

Following the panelists’ presentations, there was a question and answer segment for members of the audience to also air their concerns.(JSV)

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