The decision by telecommunications giant Flow Barbados to bar its cash strapped competitor Ozone Wireless from using its signal stations due to an unpaid debt, may have been a power play to drive out the competition, a local consumer rights advocate charges.
And Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt, director general of the Barbados Consumers Research Organization Inc, is warning that consumers would be worse off if the year-old mobile service provider were forced out of the market.
“It is good when the consumers have a lot of players in the marketplace because it gives the consumer more options,” Gibbs-Taitt said.
“Ozone is between a rock and hard place because Ozone owes Flow and therefore the bigger company has the leverage to chase the smaller company out of the market.”
Chief Executive Officer of Ozone Wireless Dr Nicholas Kelly yesterday revealed that over the weekend Flow followed through on threats to pull the plug unless it paid half of the $1.5 million debt owed to the telecommunications and entertainment provider, which boasts of being one of the leading companies of its kind in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The development, which has left the struggling Ozone 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, his company would have no alternative but to take on investors to raise the money to pay the debt.
However, this afternoon Gibbs-Taitt told Barbados TODAY that outside of mediating discussions between the two parties, there was little the FTC could do to force Flow’s hand.
“I don’t know what the FTC can do at this stage but its role would be to encourage more players into the marketplace. It would also be good for Ozone to put its case to the minister responsible for the FTC because at the end of the day the consumer’s interest must come first,” the consumers affairs agitator said.
“It is in the interest of Government itself to keep the players in the marketplace, especially at a time when value for money is such a key issue. Last thing we need is to go back to the monopoly situation. So what is needed is sensible and realistic negotiations and this certainly is within the scope of the Fair Trading Commission,” Gibbs-Taitt added.
In his interview yesterday with Barbados TODAY Kelly revealed that Flow was not opened to negotiation unless they received the lump sum payment of $750,000, a demand, he said, Ozone was in no position to meet. The Ozone chief executive explained that of the 50 creditors owed $8 million, Flow was the only to reject Ozone’s 18-month repayment plan.