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Protect consumers and competition


Mark Linehan, CEO, Digicel (Barbados) Ltd

Protect consumers and competition

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I see that Cable & Wireless’ Miami-based executives have been travelling around the Caribbean trying to sell the benefits of their intended acquisition of Columbus in terms of it being good for consumers, good for the economy and good for staff.

I have also noted with interest a number of articles from commentators across the region worried about the return to the days of the Cable & Wireless monopoly, a thought that is sending shockwaves throughout the Caribbean.

I would like to offer up a reasoned response. Firstly, one of the main issues in understanding Digicel’s point of view in asking for close regulatory scrutiny of the proposed deal is in relation to our position in the overall telecoms market, not just the mobile market.

It’s no secret that we lead the mobile market in Barbados with close to 60 per cent market share and that our investment in fibre, twinned with our progressive ICT capabilities, is allowing us take market share in the business sector from the incumbent – but our advantages start and end there. When it comes to our position in the domestic fixed line and domestic broadband markets, our position is much more marginalised, versus a combined potential might of Cable & Wireless and Columbus of a near monopoly in the domestic fixed telephony and domestic broadband markets and a close to 50 per cent market share in cable TV.

That is where our cause for concern lies as it relates to anti-competitive activity in the market. We’re talking about different markets, different services and different consumer offerings.

For the avoidance of doubt, Digicel’s concerns with regard to the proposed acquisition by Cable & Wireless of Columbus Communications are straightforward and transparent and can be summarised as follows:

• The good of consumers must be paramount – we cannot risk an environment of higher prices, slower investment and degraded service which often flow from virtual or actual monopolies;

• The region has come so far in terms of technological and economic development and steps should be taken to ensure this is maintained;

• A level playing field is vital for competition to thrive and consumers and the economy to benefit from it;

• The proposed merger must be examined properly and in the fullness of time to ensure that competition is preserved and protected;

• The required processes should not be rushed through and approved with indecent haste. The regulators in Barbados and across the region have a very important job to do and should be allowed to complete their market review and provide recommendations for the protection of consumers and the continued development of the industry.

As the company which brought communications competition to Barbados, we are in absolute support of the continued development and sustainability of the industry supported by a strong regulatory regime which ensures that providers are held accountable and consumers’ rights and interests are protected and promoted.

We hope that the regulators in Barbados and across the region are given the time to fully analyse the impact of this proposed merger and are allowed as much time as they need to provide recommendations to preserve competition in the industry, ultimately ensuring the protection of consumers. That is all we are asking for in this regard.

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