The Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) has reported that talks with the enlarged Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) and Columbus Communications group – which completed a USD3 billion regional merger last year – have ended without ‘amicable’ agreement. ECTEL, which was established by treaty in May 2000 to provide an overarching regulatory structure for the Eastern Caribbean states of Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines, is obviously concerned about the potential anti-competition issues presented by the tie-up and claims it has been working diligently with CWC since the merger announcement was made in November 2014. In short, the regional regulator is mindful that existing legislation does not give it enough legal powers to ‘stop or impose remedies on companies partaking in mergers and acquisitions in the telecommunications sector,’ and having failed to secure agreement with CWC-Columbus on matters such as the minimum speed and price for entry-level broadband packages, maintaining an open internet, sharing of telecommunications infrastructure for existing and new entrants to provide new services, and protection provisions to ensure customers are not disadvantaged by new services and pricing, to be implemented following the merger, it will now seek alternative ways of resolving its concerns.
As such, ECTEL has warned that in the absence of an agreement with CWC-Columbus, it will work with the individual national regulators (i.e. NTRCs) and continue ‘to fulfil its mandate as set out in the treaty of 2000 establishing ECTEL, namely to promote open entry, market liberalisation and competition in the telecommunications sector of the contracting states’. Here, ECTEL says it is working to secure the passage of the draft Electronic Communications Bill which was consulted upon from October to December 2015, and which will further assist with managing any adverse effects on consumers and other stakeholders, by giving ECTEL additional powers and tools with which to regulate. The regional watchdog is also conducting a pubic consultation on a suite of new measures, including regulations of access to network infrastructure, retail pricing and consumer protection, which are intended, in conjunction with the proposed Electronic Communications Bill, to further strengthen the regulatory environment, promote fair competition, and safeguard consumer rights.