It looks as if things are about to heat up in the local telecommunications industry.
Flow (Barbados) customers were put on notice today that an announcement of enhancements to its service offerings would come later this month following Government’s decision to raise the Value Added Tax (VAT) on cell phone usage from the standard 17.5 per cent to 22 per cent effective January 1.
The announcement came one day after rival, Digicel, announced that it would absorb the tax increase after Flow notified customers that it had put arrangements in place for collecting the 22 per cent VAT. The Digicel decision applies to all of its prepaid bundles, postpaid smart plans and business customers.
Flow’s Head of Marketing Shelly Ann Hee Chung, while making it clear that the announcement to come was not in response to the move by Digicel, told Barbados TODAY that based on feedback from customers, Flow started work last year on enhancing its services and would advise customers later this month.
“It is not in response to any sort of action to any other competitor,” she said, declining even to hint what those enhancements included. “It is all part and parcel of the research we would have conducted and it was all part of the plan based on the media conference that we had last year as well, when we promised that in January we would be coming out with some hot news. It is coming very soon so customers can look out for that.
“Over the past six months, we have
been communicating and touching base
with our customers consistently and
based on that communication and feedback . . . we will actually be hosting a media conference very soon to talk about some of the enhancements to our portfolio, all of which will be of significant benefit to our customers,” she added.
Highlighting the millions of dollars in investments made by the company over the past year in Barbados, Hee Chung said Flow’s customers were already beginning to benefit from some of the network enhancements and improvements.
The Flow executive said while the past year had been a phenomenal one for the company, the past six months, in particular, had been exceptional because of the work that the company had been engaged in since the merger of Columbus and LIME and the launch of the new Flow brand.
“In the past six months alone, we have seen several key achievements, one of which being the fact that we have completed our fibre build throughout Barbados. This is not just an achievement for us at Flow; this is an achievement for Barbados, putting Barbados on the map in that we have now become the first and only country in the world to provide customers with 100 percent fibre to the home.
“We also recently completed an upgrade to our 4G network, an investment that cost us over US$150 million. That in itself has had significant impact on the quality of the performance of our network to the point where an international independent research company recently conducted some assessments on the mobile networks in Barbados . . . and Flow demonstrated, within the results of that survey, to be the most robust,” she added.
Cell phone users have said they are not pleased with the VAT rise and today they welcomed the Digicel announcement.
Some Flow customers have also told Barbados TODAY they would consider changing providers, while others said they would adopt a “wait and see” approach.
Keisha Mayers has been a Digicel customer since the company began operating here in 2004. A postpaid customer who uses her phone extensively, Mayers said yesterday’s announcement by Digicel left her feeling “really good”.
“I was very concerned about the additional tax. It meant re-budgeting practically everything and I know that my phone bill is not the highest out there. I try to keep my bill down. So for those people who have $200 phone bills, that would be a significant increase. So I am really, really pleased to hear that Digicel is making that decision,” she said.
“I actually had turned off my data plan from January 1. I saw a notice come out with the class members of my daughter’s school saying “Don’t forget it is January 1, turn off those data plans” and I did it right away. So this means I can turn it back on,” she said with glee.
Asked if she believed the move by Digicel would encourage more customers to change their mobile service provider, the corporate accountant said: “If Flow does not join the bandwagon, yes, I do.”
Roger Gibbs is among those who are unhappy with the Vat increase, insisting there was no rationale for it.
The Flow customer said he used his mobile phone to conduct business and was concerned about the possible impact of the tax hike on his operation. However, he said he would consider switching to Digicel only if he could keep his number.
“The Government has to get its act together to raise its own funds. Don’t penalize me for what they need to do. It is hard already for me to survive. So why are you cutting me at my knee?” asked the small business owner.
Corey Forde said he has been a Flow cell phone customer “practically all” his life but was now considering a change if his provider did not follow the Digicel lead.
“I [am] considering. I went to buy a [Digicel] SIM card today. I was looking to buy one today,” said the driver, adding, “if [Flow] don’t do it, I am going across to Digicel”.
Charles Lewis, also a Flow customer of 20 years said he was not sure he would switch.
“I would have to investigate because I am not really sure how much the packages with Digicel cost, comparing it with Flow. Before I know that LIME was a little bit more favourable, so I would have to check and see if the prices of the packages have changed,” he said.