The Managing Director of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL), Embert Charles, has given an update on the situation relating to the USD3 billion regional merger of Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) and Columbus Communications group last year, and how it relates to regulatory matters going forward.
As previously reported by CommsUpdate, in March this year talks between ECTEL and the enlarged group – which trades under the Flow banner – 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 has been working diligently with CWC since the merger announcement was made in November 2014. At the time, the regional regulator said it was 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’. 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 is seeking alternative ways of resolving its concerns.
As such, this week Mr Charles has disclosed that with negotiations having broken down, the watchdog has decided ‘to go to the second plan which is to declare the joint operations dominant’. The MD says that clear procedures will be needed to achieve this, noting: ‘We have to do the study, we have to do the legal work to ensure the evidence – if the companies are operating as one, from there we apply the rule of regulating the prices, regulating these services.’ Further, he said that with some licences currently up for renewal, it is considering the applications now before it. ‘At the same time the policy makers will be thinking, if the law permits, what kind of provisions can be put in the new licences to address the impact that we were trying to address in the negotiations which we were unable to do,’ he told journalists.