Cable & Wireless customers, have you yet seen your telephone bills which usually arrive between the fifth and seventh day of the month and are payable by the 21st? Have you seen any notice from the company explaining why the bills are late and how and when they are to be paid, bearing in mind that Wednesday (yesterday) was the 21st?
I have not seen my bill, nor any public explanation of the delay. As an accountant, I know a little more than most householders as I see bills from many clients – so let me explain some of what I have observed in the last year.
Forget FLOW, the go-slow, no-go, blue promo logo, used as a veil behind which to hide what these telecommunications businesses are doing.
FLOW is not a company, nor a corporation, it is not a legal entity. If you examine the small print at the bottom of your previous bills, you will see there are two distinct companies “Please make cheques payable to Cable & Wireless (Barbados) Limited” or the other one “Please make cheques payable to Columbus Telecommunications (Barbados) Limited”. This distinction is important to understanding what is happening with your bill.
I do bookkeeping and accounts for a number of small clients and since my job involves reconciling my clients’ accounts and ensuring that they do not pay money they do not owe, I have to analyze bills more carefully and therefore I notice things most householders would miss. Let me tell you what I know and ask a few questions of FLOW and the Fair Trading Commission.
Landline customers who opted to contract with the original FLOW (before the merger) as well as those who have had their service “migrated” to Fibre-Optic service will have been billed by Columbus Telecommunications Ltd. The bill usually arrives around the 17 – 20 of the month and is (or WAS) payable on the 30/31 of the month.
Old landline customers still on the copper cables will have continued to be billed by Cable & Wireless Ltd, bills arriving 5 – 7 of the month and payable by the 21st.
My first migration was a nightmare as we were not warned there would be duplicate billings for identical periods, leading to overcharging of the customers and a fight to obtain the credit due. The regular bill comes as usual and you pay it, then two/three months later another bill comes starting from the date of the migration and covering periods already paid for, but the payments are not shown as the bill comes from a different company (even though they both say “FLOW”). After numerous phone calls to the customer care, getting nowhere, my client had to go, physically, wasting valuable business time and petrol, to one of “FLOW’s” locations to have the over-payment corrected. Even when this was done, it took several months before the credit appeared on the current bills.
To make a difficult situation worse, the “Columbus” bills all went to wrong addresses as they did not seem to have any access to C&W records. If the customer had signed for the payment to be deducted directly from their bank account, this also was ignored and not until the phone went on “Soft Touch” was anyone aware it had not been paid as it should have been by Direct Debit to the customers bank account. There was a total lack of any communication between the two companies which supposedly had merged.
More recently with another “Fibre-Optic” migration, a client was able to print off and email me a very early copy of his C&W bill with the credit on it. Seeing this, I called the customer service line to determine the other credits due, but there was nothing on the accounts. I called back and explained to a customer service representative, who explained that once “migration” has taken place, the credit is calculated, but is not transferred to the new “Columbus” account, it is held in a “third account” to which the customer has no access. I asked her to give me the amounts of the credits for my people, which she did and she said she would send emails asking that these credits be transferred to the new accounts. I did not ask her what would happen to the money in these accounts if the customer did not know to ask for the transfer.
After two hours and speaking to six different representatives, I was able to determine the amounts of credits due to my people. I deducted these from the Columbus bills, carefully writing on a note “Due from C&W re migration” and showing the amount of the credit. Despite this the June bills turned up without the credits, showing a brought forward balance equal to the credits and threatening disconnection if the full amount is not paid.
So question No. 1 to Fair Trading Commission. Is it legal for a business to owe you money and refuse to produce a credit memo, to acknowledge the credit, not to pay you what they owe and to instead insist that you pay the full amount of current charges and threaten disconnection when you insist that the credit be acknowledged and applied to your bill? If this is legal, then the law, or those who drafted it, truly is an ass.
Is Cable & Wireless allowed to retain this money in a “third account” indefinitely to supplement its cash flow and not credit it to their current telephone bills?
When I commented to someone that FLOW’s right hand (C&W) did not seem to know what its left hand (Columbus) was doing, I was told unbelievably, that whilst employees of one company received a bonus and raise at Christmas, persons employed at the other did not. These teams have to work together. How can you expect full co-operation and communication between employees when one group is treated more favourably financially than the other?
This last piece of information is what made me realize that there could not have been a true merger of the companies, or the staff would all have been employed by the same legal entity and this type of inequity in remunerations would not have been possible.
Now to the matter of the June telephone bills.
When Cable & Wireless bills did not arrive as usual and a friend who also does bookkeeping told me her client’s bills had not arrived, she called 1-800-804-2994 and tried to get the amount so she could send the payment to SurePay. The system told her there was no balance on the account, she then called for a representative who told her that the bills had not yet been generated in the system. That was Friday, June 9th.
I did the same on Monday, June 12th and got the same result. I then redialled and waited for a customer service representative who informed me that ALL Cable & Wireless “FLOW” customers’ accounts were being “migrated to the “Columbus” accounting platform but the bills had not yet been issued.
There was a notice in the newspaper in May that ALL FLOW bills would now be payable by the 21st.
FLOW “Columbus” bills (or most of them- a few are still missing) arrived Friday, June 16th, that leaves three days Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday for the post office to deliver the cheques. The FLOW C&W bills – for the old copper cable service have still not arrived. There has been no official notice from the company or notification of the proposed change in the service. Your service is being transferred unilaterally to another provider, with a new account and account number.
If, like me, you pay on-line to Cable & Wireless direct from your bank account, this payment will go to an account which has been discontinued and may well end up in the infamous “black hole” where money transfers have been known to disappear permanently. You will need to wait until you receive your bill with the new account number and set up a new payee on your on-line account.
I am not sure whether SurePay can access the new account if you give them the old one, since you will not have a bill to produce.
Last year C&W proposed charging for a paper bill mailed to customers, they were told by the Fair Trading Commission that a paper bill was part of the customary service covered by the contracted price and could not be changed without applying to the FTC for a change in the terms and conditions of service.
Question No. 2 to FTC – Given the unilateral transfer of our service to another company (Columbus Telecommunications) do the same terms and conditions apply as before?
Question No. 3 – Does the company (whichever it calls itself) not owe customers an explanation of what they are doing, why our bills are late, what is the extended period allowed for payment once the bills arrive and are they not responsible for sending a bill with a reasonable time period allowed for payment, including cheque payments by mail, which many businesses still use. Small companies do not have messengers, or staff to spend hours standing in line at SurePay.
Once all the accounts are transferred to Columbus telecommunications, does this mean that Cable & Wireless is pulling out of Barbados entirely? The Blue FLOW veil has been used in a Trumpian manner to obfuscate this whole deal.
Do we as customers of a monopoly utility service not have a right to know with whom we are contracting for our telephone and internet service? This behaviour could not have occurred with a monopoly service under the Public Utilities Board.
To the Fair Trading Commission – “Do your Job”. Make sure this company is held accountable to its customers, providing complete and sufficient information, not robbing people of the money due to be credited to them, clearly displaying the credit so it can be analyzed and reconciled by the customer and informing customers of changes to the terms and conditions of their contracts in a timely manner.
Customers should not have to be fishing around, spending hours on the phone, grilling customer service reps; who know nothing of what is going on in Barbados and give as little information as possible to the customers; trying to figure out how, when and to whom they should pay their bills.