Embattled third player in the Barbados mobile market, Ozone Wireless, has been dealt a massive blow by Flow Barbados, which has barred the cash strapped mobile provider from using its signal stations because of its failure to pay an outstanding debt.
Chief Executive Officer of Ozone Wireless Dr Nicholas Kelly revealed this afternoon that over the weekend Flow followed through on threats to pull the plug unless the one year-old company paid half of the $1.5 million debt owed.
The development, which has left the struggling mobile provider solely dependent on Digicel’s antennas, resulted in a third of the island being unable to access the service, with no guarantees as to when it would be restored.
“We made a proposal to all of our creditors to repay our debts to everybody in small amounts over the next 18 months. All 50 creditors agreed to the proposal but Cable and Wireless [Flow’s parent company] said no, it was not enough money. They told us they needed 50 per cent of what they are owed immediately or they were going to shut down the service to Ozone and they did exactly that,” Kelly told Barbados TODAY, while adding that his company had taken the matter to the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) in an attempt to force Flow to reverse the decision.
Barring an intervention by the FTC, Kelly explained that his company would have no alternative but to take on investors to raise the money to pay the debt.
“One third of our customers now cannot get service and we can’t help them until we can negotiate with Flow to switch back on the service. We have attempted to negotiate with them but they will not negotiate until they are paid. So we are talking to the Fair Trading Commission to determine if there is something they can do, and secondly, we are talking to potential investors,” the Ozone executive said, adding that he was still hoping to negotiate with the communications giant.
“Right now Ozone does not have enough money to pay the debt and the last time we checked we had about 1,200 customers still connected to the network. So we have lost about 500 customers.
“I understand that if you don’t pay your bills you get cut off, but what really upsets me is that Flow does not want to negotiate and our future depends on negotiating contracts with them,” Kelly stressed.
Customers in the north and south of the island complained this morning that they were unable receive connectivity over the weekend.
In the meantime Kelly told Barbados TODAY he did not expect these customers to honour their contracts with Ozone, adding that he was sorry for their inconvenience .
“Once persons are accessing service and they are getting something for their money, then we don’t mind them paying their bills. What we don’t need is persons paying their bills but can’t access their services because that would be wrong. So we are not telling you that because you have a contract you must pay.
“In an ideal situation we would be negotiating with Flow and have connections up by tomorrow, but they have said no. So I just can’t tell you what is going to happen, but we are really hoping that by the end of September there is some kind of resolution. I am doing my best to maintain the company and I am sorry for any inconvenience caused,” Kelly explained.
Barbados TODAY attempted to reach to Flow’s Director of Communications Marilyn Sealy but was unsuccessful.
Back in July, Kelly had revealed that the company was sending home 80 per cent of its workforce while suspending all debt payments in a bid to survive a multi-million dollar debt.
Kelly said at the time the company owed $8 million to over 50 creditors, and would therefore undertake a three-year debt re-profiling programme.
“The CEO of Flow has indicated to me personally that they do not wish for Ozone to be crushed. They know they have the power to do it but at the end of the day if we end up with five per cent of the population we are not going to be a big thorn in the side of either Flow or Digicel, yet we would be an extremely profitable company,” he said then.