The conditional acquisition of Columbus Communication by Cable and Wireless Communications Plc (CWC) announced last week raises a number of questions, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on Monday.
Both companies announced the deal in a joint statement, saying the proposed acquisition, valued at US$3.025 billion, will enable the combined company to significantly accelerate its growth strategy, improve service delivery to customers in the region, offer customers a comprehensive portfolio of high-quality products and services, and strengthen their position against larger competitors.
Digicel, CWC’s main competitor in the Caribbean, said in a statement last week that it is “naturally concerned about the clear and obvious challenges and potential issues posed” by the proposed acquisition.
Gonsalves told a press conference that his Cabinet is yet to discuss the development, but has been informed of it.
He said the Cabinet will be properly advised by the officials in the Ministry of telecommunication as well as the National Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (NTRC) and the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL).
“But clearly, on the face of it, it raises questions which have to be satisfied, because we have a law which we passed in 2001 in the Parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which opened the door for competition, to move away from Cable and Wireless having a monopoly. What we are now having is a monopoly in the country — the internet services,” he said.
“So, on the face of it, some issues of a monopoly has entered the picture and the regulatory authority would have to take this matter into consideration in managing that, regulating that monopoly as we are going forward. And I would suspect that you would have similar instincts on the face of it,” he told reporters.
Gonsalves said that while he does not want to comment until he is advised by the relevant officials, he is speaking generally about the purpose of liberalization.
“We still have competition with voice, telephony, but we are now going to have a monopoly in relation to the Internet, and therefore in data,” he said.
He, however, noted that even if a monopoly were to emerge, there are legal avenues through which the interest of consumers can be safeguarded.
“The law has provisions for monopolies, dominant providers and how to address those. There is a legal framework. And, if needs be, we will strengthen the legal framework to make sure that dominant providers and monopolies do not provide substandard services and at prices which are normally would be not competitive if you had another provider in the marketplace,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs.