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Balanced approach to merger


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Balanced approach to merger

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CABLE & WIRELESS Communications (CWC) chief executive officer Phil Bentley recently answered several questions related to the company’s operations and its plans for Barbados and the Caribbean this year. Following is the first part of that interview.

How was 2014 for Cable & Wireless and its companies in Barbados and the Caribbean?

This was my first year with CWC and I’m happy to say that my team and I have accomplished quite a lot, but there’s still far more work to do.

I’ve travelled extensively to meet with customers, governments, regulators, our union partners and employees, and they have expressed a common optimism about the future of the company that inspires us.

On the business performance side, we presented our half year results in November, and we were pleased to report revenue growth across the group, (group revenue up one per cent, mobile revenue up three per cent, mobile data up ten per cent) as mobile subscribers and data uptake grew.

Our invest to grow strategy yielded early benefits and our “Upgrade Caribbean” programme has given our customers a faster and more reliable network thanks to the US$1.05 billion investment we are making as part of Project Marlin.

We are encouraged by the response of our customers who are beginning to notice the difference. In Barbados we were particularly pleased with the progress of our investment in broadband as we have seen a surge in data usage through increased customer demand. We upgraded and increased our retail stores here in Barbados – another step toward customer satisfaction delivery.

What are your expectations and plans for 2015?

Well, there’s a lot. Our main focus in 2015 will be on continuing to improve the consumer experience through network improvements, enhanced services, a wider range of products, greater value, and increased broadband penetration, innovation and an organisational culture that will empower and inspire our people to realise their true potential.

We also plan to invest considerably to revolutionise telecommunications across the Caribbean.

As we announced last month, we will invest USD$400 million in broadband expansion, building the most extensive fibre infrastructure ever constructed in our region.

In Barbados we have committed to investing another US$50 million in the network here – that’s an enormous commitment, which translated to the equivalent of US$350 for each Bajan.

We are pledging broadband access to all – that means affordable access for low-income households. We have committed that the new company will introduce a 2mb entry-level broadband package across all our markets, with a maximum price of just three per cent of an average family’s income in each market.

We have reaffirmed our commitment to local number portability which will give consumers to exercise the freedom to keep their telephone numbers should they wish to switch provider and we hope to see that materialise in some markets this year.

On the subject of Net neutrality – we intend to become the leading regional supporter of net neutrality and provide legal “over the top” (OTT) services. Therefore, we won’t block legal services that we know our customers want.

Are you confident that the planned US$3 billion acquisition of Columbus and subsequent merger of operations with Cable & Wireless will receive regulatory approval in Barbados and elsewhere in the region?

We are enormously respectful of the important role the regulators play in our industry. They must ensure any deal will benefit Barbados and the country’s economy, and indeed to the wider region.

So, we are actively discussing our merger with regulators and policymakers in Barbados and across the region.

It would be wrong of me to pre-empt any of their decisions but we are confident they will see the wider benefits of this deal, the fierce competition in our industry in the region and take a balanced approach to it.

At what stage of the process is this acquisition and what is the likely impact on jobs and investment in 2015?

The merger process is progressing as normal and I am really encouraged by the overwhelming positive response by our shareholders, customers, employees and the public.

Please appreciate that it would be premature to comment on further stages at this time as we still have a distance to go.

Are you likely to retain the same name or is there likely to be a new brand name emerging from the combination of LIME and FLOW?

While we have not yet made a decision on the name of the company at this early stage, what we know for sure is that we are forming a new company, with a new leadership team, and a new culture, putting our customers at the heart of our business.

Is the process going as you expected, especially considering that there have been some public comments opposing the partnership?

Yes. Any deal of this size is likely to attract a range of comments – which we fully respect. But overall I’ve been very encouraged by the dialogue and transparent process involved.

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