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Flow Ja needs 5 more years to complete triple-play network

Published:Sunday | March 20, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Chairman of Columbus Communications International Brendan Paddick (right) and President and Chief Operating Officer of Flow Michelle English (centre) listen as Vice-President of Columbus Business Solutions Niall Sheehy (left) emphasises a point at the launch of the new division, Columbus Business Solutions, at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel in New Kingston, on March 16. - Contributed

Mark Titus, Business Reporter

Flow Jamaica has applied to the Broadcasting Commission for a five-year extension to complete the build-out of its triple-play network. The company was granted a national licence in 2005 on condition that it construct a national network by 2011.

President and Chief Executive Officer Michelle English said Wednesday that it would need another five years to finalise the job.

The company is expected to provide coverage for about 750,000 households.

"We have recently submitted to the Broadcasting Commission the new build-out schedule asking for up to 2016 to do everything, and we are now waiting for this to be approved," English told Sunday Business at the launch of the company's new commercial unit, Columbus Business Solutions (CBS), including videoconferencing and IP surveillance targeted at micro, small, medium, and large enterprises.

According to English, there is growing demand for the company's triple-play service - cable, Internet and voice - in areas of Jamaica yet to be penetrated, but she says priority will be given to the areas that are more densely populated.

"We can build out only 40,000 - 50,000 homes per year realistically," she said.

"If I go into such a community first, it will cost me 10 times more than a Portmore or Montego Bay that is more densely populated, while I am getting only a fraction of the number of customers I would have in more densely populated areas, so we have to manage how that is dealt with."

Flow had signalled from last year that it would miss its deadline and had approached the Broadcasting Commission for an extension.

"The commission did receive an application for variation of licence from Flow," Nicole Morrison, the commission's information and public relations officer, said Friday.

"It has been considered and reviewed and a recommendation has been made to the minister of information."

While it was deemed necessary to acquire the assets of smaller players on market entry - Flow has bought up nine cable rivals to grow its customer base - the triple-play company will not be cutting any new acquisition deals.

"I don't want to go down that route again," said English. "It was a difficult period for the company from a customer service viewpoint because we were taking on these companies so quickly. Then we had to retrain the additional staff that were with these companies, so it was a real difficult time."

"There were good reasons for the acquisitions," she added, "We had to buy companies if we wanted to offer our triple-play service."

According to the company's website, triple-play coverage is offered in five urban centres - Kingston and St Andrew, Portmore, Mandeville, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios - while cable service is offered in Negril, and Lucea and Hopewell in Hanover.

There is also a presence on the south coast and in Falmouth, Trelawny.

At the same time, Flow has been improving its Internet service and is now offering speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second to residential customers.

"We are actually seeing organic growth because as we offer the triple-play service, people are also taking advantage of our bundles," English said.

"So we are seeing growth on our video products, which we didn't expect to see because we are well penetrated in the market. Flow has been really excited about the growth there."