BLP fears cost increases with LIME/Flow merger
Shadow Minister for Industry and Commerce Kerrie Symmonds fears that Barbadians will soon be faced with metered billing for landlines and a return to high communication prices if the pending LIME buyout of Flow goes through.
Today the Barbados Labour Party representative hit out at the likely US$3 billion deal, branding it an anti-competitive move that gives LIME too much leverage when it is already “muscling” the Barbados Government into having its own way.
Making it clear that his remarks represent a preliminary statement, and the party would issue more comment when details of the deal were known, Symmonds told Barbados TODAY: “My own view about the Government of Barbados is that they have allowed LIME to flex its muscles in the marketplace for far too long without bringing them to the table and trying to make them accountable for certain minimal standards of development.”
Symmonds said that LIME’s purchase of Flow raised the spectre of not only further domination of the market, but also taking up past plans it had dropped with the onset of competition in the landline market.
“It would appear that this acquisition will return us to a state of a monopoly,” the MP for St James Central said, adding, “there is a period of time when Cable and Wireless was speaking the language of billing [landline] customers for phone calls domestically. The possibility now arises in a monopoly situation once again, that this can once more be the issue that confronts the island”.
He said the overall concern was “what appears to be the anti-competitive nature of the transaction”.
“And I think this must attract very close scrutiny of Barbados’ Fair Trading Commission,” the Opposition MP said.
Symmonds was of the view that prior to the introduction of other providers, Barbados’ telephone communications were not being properly developed.
“The introduction of competition in all of its aspects, whether it is cell phones, Internet, the landline – all of these things have served towards making Barbados a more competitive jurisdiction and more development-oriented jurisdiction and therefore it worked to the interest of the consuming public in Barbados.
“One of the things that we have to make sure we avoid is putting the country on a negative development path. We don’t want to reverse progress in terms of cheaper costs, better access to technology and related equipment. We want a situation in which the continued high level of competition ensures businesses’ overall development in so far as the telecommunications industry is concerned,” he said.
Another issue Symmonds has with there being a dominant player in the telecommunications field, is apparent pressure on Government to hold back progress towards consumers having permanent cell phone numbers, regardless of the service provider.
“We cannot transfer our numbers. There is no portability of numbers. If I move from one telephone company to the other, I can’t move with my number,” he said.
Noting that Jamaica was on its way to number portability, scheduled for less than a year’s time, he said, “I believe that is a matter in which Government has to play a role. That it can happen in certain parts of the Caribbean, that they obtain number portability, but it can’t happen in Barbados, is absolutely unsatisfactory. It is at that point where the Government must say that, ‘if you wish to function in our market, then you have to give equal treatment’.
“We’re in CARICOM where there should be equality of treatment within the marketplace to any entity, whether it is Jamaica, Belize or Barbados.”
In Symmonds’ view, Barbados was on its way forward with three competing phone companies giving consumers a choice when dissatisfied with the service of one.
“If we go back to a state of a monopoly, my first instinct is that there is no pressure on LIME to improve its product and the delivery of its services, and therefore we fall behind the rest of the world with whom we are competing, so that we’re doubly disadvantaged – one, in terms of cost, and secondly, in terms of the service that we get.”
He charged that LIME’s call centres for after-sales service have consumers “stuck in a rut”, because “you now have to go to all parts of Latin America, sometimes to people who are struggling to speak to you in English”.
Symmonds said the best way to overcome such treatment was if the consuming public had alternatives for better after-sales service.
“But if LIME now has possession and domination of the market, then it follows logically that they are not likely to feel any pressure towards improving the after-sales service to the consumer.”
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