Amidst reports last month that mobile network operator Ozone was facing a take over by its competitor, Flow, a top official of the new company’s interim management told Barbados TODAY this afternoon there were no plans to sell or merge.
“There are no plans to sell . . . either to Flow or anybody else,” the senior official, who preferred anonymity, said, clarifying an admission last Friday by leading shareholder and investor Dr Nicholas Kelly.
As questions swirled about the fate of the company after its corporate and main showroom offices at Manor Lodge Complex, St Michael were virtually abandoned without notice of closure to customers, Kelly had confirmed to Barbados TODAY that over the past six months the firm had been faced with a variety of business options which would determine its future, “including a possible sale that could not happen”.
This after well-placed sources had told said last month that the company was experiencing severe financial challenges over the past several months and has had to entertain purchase bids from both Digicel and Flow. The sources went on to point out that the Digicel discussions did not amount to an agreement.
However, the interim management official again sought to reassure Ozone customers there was no reason to fear.
“Ozone remains a single entity and will be so for the foreseeable future,” said the official of the interim management team, which is running the telecommunications service provider for Dr Kelly, who is travelling.
A check with utilities regulator, the Fair Trading Commission (FTC), today revealed that the state-owned agency had not received any requests for a merger of Ozone and Flow or any other provider.
“I can say we have not received anything asking us about a merger, and so we wouldn’t make a presumption on anything that would be coming out at that time,” Antonio Thompson, the FTC’s acting chief executive officer, told Barbados TODAY.
“We have not seen any formal request or notification and as far as we are concerned, Ozone is still operating, based on all the information that we have available to us, as a separate entity,” Thompson stressed.
Even in the absence of such a request, Deputy Chief Telecommunications Officer Clifford Bostic told Barbados TODAY his department would be concerned about the implications of any such merger in the telecoms sector here, particularly where a monopoly could result.
“One of the things we have to do is take a look at how we can counteract or prevent an imbalance which perpetuates a monopoly. So we would examine what we can do along with the Fair Trading Commission to see if the new entity which merges with any of the organizations in telecom . . . whether or not that creates a monopoly by way of having more than a third of the customer base in Barbados,” Bostic said.
Noting that any merger must go through the minister responsible for telecommunications, he said no such application was on file.
“We don’t have anything on file . . . any formal announcement or pronouncement from them, or any request to the minister, cause they do have to apply to the minister for permission to merge . . . and once they have a licence in Barbados, there is that requirement,” he added.
The senior telecommunications official explained that the merged company would have to be examined to see how it competes on the landscape in terms of the number of customers or network infrastructure and spectrum.
“An in-depth analysis has to be done to ensure we don’t have a monopoly in Barbados in telecommunications,” Bostic said.
This all coincides with the resumption of business at Ozone today after a three-day unannounced closure last week for what the company later said was stocktaking.
Unlike last week when they were met by locked doors, customers were able to enter and conduct business today.
Ozone also posted a photograph on its Facebook page of people in the office this morning doing business.
In a statement issued last week, Dr Kelly sought to assure patrons that the company was in good hands as he had taken control after resolving a number of administrative challenges under the “old” management.
In fact he had said that the old management had left members of staff and him in the darks with respect to the true state of the company.