ON THE RIGHT: Consumers adapt to circumstances
WHEN BARBADIANS take to writing letters to the editor and the call-in radio programmes, we all know something is up. And so it is with widespread public and private discussion on the impact of cellphone rates and taxes, given Government’s announcement late last year of a value added tax (VAT) of 22 per cent on cell phone calls, data, including WhatsApp and Skype messaging and text messaging.
Post-paid customers of Flow and Digicel will be able to assess the impact of the new rates in February when they receive their January 2016 bills.
For pre-paid customers, they would have noticed the changes from early January. Businesses have no doubt been crunching the numbers given the vital importance of communications and cost while some family members have held mini conferences to figure out what the bottom line will be and what options they have for adjustments.
In a letter to the editor in one of the daily newspapers on January 13, Denis Williams, a Digicel customer, questioned the announcement of Digicel absorbing the 4.5 per cent VAT increase while reporting a day later an additional several dollars increase in his pre-paid calling plan, which at 1.5 gigabytes is the lowest plan available.
“I see that their pre-paid calling rates have increased. Is this how Digicel plans to ‘absorb’ the new VAT? Where are the savings? Am I missing something here?”, wrote Williams.
Krystal Bowen, in another letter to the editor on January 17, suggested there were too few free Wi-Fi spots around Barbados and proposed increased use of payphones where available and in working condition as a response to the communications tax.
For its part, Flow, the brand for Cable & Wireless (Barbados), says it is moving ahead with implementing the tax as mandated by Government. There is little public information on new rate increases, no consumer or private sector body indicating what the new rates increases mean, no consumer bodies providing data of any substance to guide consumers and no word, so far, from the Fair Trading Commission (FTC), which has a mandate to protect consumers on rate increases.
One consumer who discussed the tax with me said she would give serious consideration to moving from a pre-paid plan to a post-paid plan as the latter appears more affordable.
It is these types of considerations consumers have to tackle amid an absence of some key information. Barbadians appear thirsty for a clearer understanding from Digicel about the pros and cons of the cost of service.
Flow, for its part, has indicated that customers can anticipate new service offerings in 2016.
While the customers of both companies await word from the FTC on the implementation of number portability it should not be assumed that the commission’s economists have not been given the task of understanding the impact on consumers of the tax.
Number portability would allow a customer of a service provider to switch service providers and retain their valuable cellphone number.
Barbadian consumers adapt to circumstances. They can be expected to continue to take note of quality of customer service and inadequacy of service, including call dropouts or pockets where calls are made with difficulty. When the dust settles it could well be the service provider that best meets the anticipated experience of top quality customer care and network reliability who benefits from consumer choice.