The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has registered with the highest-ranking Cable and Wireless official in the Caribbean its dissatisfaction with some of the services provided to Vincentians by FLOW.
Minister of Telecommunication, Camillo Gonsalves, communicated his government’s dissatisfaction during a meeting in late April with Jamaica-based Gary Sinclair, president of the Cable and Wireless entity for the Caribbean.
“We had, I think it is fair to say, a frank and spirited conversation about the standard of service that Vincentians consumers are receiving from that entity,” Gonsalves told a press conference on Friday.
Gonsalves said he did not want to go into too much of the details because the discussion “was in confidence”.
“But I indicated that I am aware that since FLOW merged with Columbus and was then acquired by Liberty Communications, an entity with over 54 markets in which they provide services, that St. Vincent and the Grenadines should not appear to be small fry on their balance sheet.”
He said he indicated to the Cable and Wireless executive that SVG is one in which they enjoy monopoly control of fixed line telephone, fixed broadband and cable television.
“I indicated as well that the number of complaints to my ministry, to the NTRC and ministries responsible for trade and consumer affairs have been increasing and that the anecdotal and the factual evidence indicates a decline in quality of service, at least in broadband internet and television services.”
The minister said he had not received similar complaints about FLOW’s mobile service.
He said he indicated to Sinclair that he recognises that FLOW has increased their subscriptions tremendously in the last year or two and that he believes that those increased subscription have now strained the provider’s network beyond its capacity.
“And I encouraged — I think encouraged is the right word — a greater investment in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in the infrastructure that is necessary to provide adequate service to the Vincentian consumer,” Gonsalves said.
He said SVG was at the tip of the spear opposing the original monopoly and dealing with the deregulation of telephone service.
The nation, however, was operating under the misapprehension that once they freed up the telecommunications space there would always be competition.
“The realities of our small market have instead led to consolidation and we are re-approaching a monopoly in some areas,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that SVG is a member of Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) , adding that he indicated to Sinclair, as he said was done to representatives of Digicel recently, that the nation intends to improve its regulatory tools at its disposal to ensure decent customer service.
Gonsalves said improving those tools and the increasing the penalties for substandard customer service, may force an investment in infrastructure.
He, however, said he recognises the importance of FLOW to the country, adding that doesn’t want to have an adversarial relationship with them.
Gonsalves, however, said:
“I hear the cries of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines about inconsistent service. This is not an attack simply on FLOW, but inconsistent ICT service and, in as much as it is in my remit, I wanted to brief the general public on that.”