Fri | Dec 9, 2016

CWC-Columbus to set up customer panels in Caribbean markets

Published:Wednesday | December 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Phil Bentley, CEO of Cable & Wireless Communications. - File

Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) and Columbus International have announced plans to launch a series of special 'customer panels' in 14 markets throughout the region.

The project, which began on Monday, is designed "to spark a constructive discussion about the proposed merger", while the "panels will present customers of both companies with a direct and organised platform to voice their concerns, share their opinions and express their service expectations," the two companies said in a joint statement.

"The panels will also provide the two companies with an opportunity to gain first-hand feedback to aid in the development of a new, consolidated strategy built around their customers' appeals," said the telecoms whose operations will be merged if approved by regulators across the region.

"CWC and Columbus will also use the panels to give customers and stakeholders a greater understanding of how the merger will impact the Pan-Caribbean region."

The project is being unveiled amid real concern emanating from the smaller Caribbean islands that the tie-up of two powerful companies could dissuade future market entrants, and as chief rival Digicel continues to lobby against the deal, saying it would allow CWC to dominate the broadband and cable markets.

CWC, which trades as LIME, is acquiring 100 per cent of Columbus, which trades as Flow, for US$3.025 billion, inclusive of about US$1.2 billion of debt.

The merger and its implications will be the focal point of the inter-governmental Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) at a specially convened two-day meeting to get under way in Trinidad today, December 10.

Jamaica, which is one of the biggest markets for both LIME and Flow, has already said it will be conducting a vigorous review of the merger.

And St Lucia-based Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) says it will ensure that any new licence granted to CWC, to operate in the subregion, will take into account the need for fair competition.

A statement issued following a special meeting of the ECTEL Council of Ministers last week, noted that, in addition, the regulatory body will also suspend the announcement of a new "price cap plan" until after the completion of the review of the applications by the parties involved, and amend the price cap accordingly.

The announcement followed a meeting to discuss the proposed merger amid fears that it would result in the formation of a monopoly in the subregion.

CWC chief executive Phil Bentley has given a commitment to Caribbean governments and regulators that if the company's Columbus International is approved, the enlarged CWC will not negatively impact competition in the cable and broadband markets.

"In the Caribbean countries in which CWC and Columbus overlap—Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada—we know that we have to work closely with governments and regulators to ensure that our customers benefit and competition is not compromised.

"And that's a commitment we happily make to all our stakeholders. I know that we have got a member of the Caribbean media here today, so I will repeat my commitment for your benefit: this is a transaction that will benefit all our customers and will not compromise competition. After all, our biggest competitor in the Caribbean will still be bigger than us after this deal," he said.

In their latest statement, the two companies said the customer panel discussions "will highlight the pro-competitive nature of this deal" and its benefits on the development of the region's infrastructure and ICT agenda.

"Our goal is to meet or exceed customer expectations and place their needs at the very heart of the combined company," said John Reid, president of Columbus Communications.

"These panels provide an excellent opportunity for our customers to understand the vision of the new company and the benefits that they will enjoy as a result of this merger," Reid said.