Telecommunications companies operating here are being accused of playing games with consumers in the wake of this week’s announcement by Digicel that it was raising its rates beginning in the New Year.
The consumer rights agency Barbados Consumer Research Organisation (BarCRO) is incensed at the companies’ treatment of customers, stopping just short of accusing both Digicel and Flow of exploiting consumers by using gimmickry to first lock them in before moving the proverbial goal post.
“It is not good enough for the consumer. Right now it is not benefiting the consumer to go with either company quite frankly, because they play games with the consumer. They wait until enough people have gone on board then do foolishness,” Director General Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt told Barbados TODAY Friday afternoon.
In an undated advisory titled, Rate Adjustment on Mobile and Data Services on its website, Digicel announced a hike in its mobile and data rates and an end to the absorption of the increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) imposed by Government last year.
The Irish company blamed the increased cost of doing business here for the rates rise, and explained that the VAT absorption was a “gesture of goodwill” in observance of the country’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.
The company’s Chief Executive Officer Conor Looney had reported last February that Digicel had seen a rise in its customer base since announcing on January 8, 2016 that it would absorb the additional 4.5 per cent VAT on mobile phone use.
Gibbs-Taitt Friday appeared to brush off Digicel’s explanation, while arguing that in an environment where competition was lacking, the authorities had a duty to protect the consumer by curtailing the prevalent freehand approach.
“Digicel, like Cable and Wireless, should be regulated, and further, I think all cell phone [companies] in Barbados should be regulated because we do not appear to have property competition. Where competition is lacking, regulation must take its place.
“It is not good enough [that there are] two mobile companies or two internet companies, then all of a sudden you hear that the said two companies merge . . . and that is to the detriment of the consumer,” the BarCRO boss said in reference to the US$1.85-billion acquisition of Columbus International Inc, the operators of Flow, by Cable and Wireless Communications, Plc, the parent company for LIME, which now operates as Flow.
Last year’s merger left Flow and Digicel as the only telecommunications providers here.
Gibbs-Taitt argued that consumers must also take some of the blame for their disadvantaged position in the current business climate because they continued to undervalue their worth.
“There is no doubt that the consumer is king but here in Barbados consumers don’t think much of themselves. But the day consumers ever get serious about themselves all other entities will regret it because you cannot be [successful as a businessman] in any country if you don’t have consumers,” he stressed.
The changes to Digicel’s prepaid rates take effect on January 3, 2017 and those for postpaid on February 1, 2017.