Efforts to restructure the massive debt of Ozone Wireless, the embattled two-year-old third player in the Barbados mobile market, have failed and as a result Digicel has followed Flow in barring the cash-strapped telecommunications provider from using its signal stations, Ozone Wireless investor Dr Nicholas Kelly has revealed.
This morning Kelly also told Barbados TODAY that he is no longer at the helm of the company and he has in fact turned over all interest to a company based in St Lucia called Calahub.
“As soon as I realized that the debt was not anything we could renegotiate… I handed over control to a guy called Lester Edward of Calahub. All of the other creditors were renegotiating but Flow and Digicel refused because I guess they figured that it wasn’t in their best interest to renegotiate. So, they basically said that’s it,” he explained.
When contacted, Edwards confirmed that his company had indeed taken control of Ozone Wireless. He also confirmed that that the company was cut off from Digicel’s signal stations but noted that the development coincided with Ozone Wireless’ plans to restructure operations. Although not able to give a timeline when the company would again be operational, Edwards told Barbados TODAY that the entity was forging ahead with plans to rebrand and build a sturdier base.
“This came at a time when our customer count was at its lowest we didn’t want a situation where we took on new customers and then had to rebuild critical parts of the network. We are in the process of diverting our contact centre to the Trinidad operation. Everything is being rebuilt from scratch,” he said.
As of July last year, Flow and Digicel were owed a huge portion of the $8 million debt accrued by Ozone. The two telecommunications companies are the only owners of the signal stations currently operational in Barbados. With Flow denying access to their stations since last year until the debt to them was settled, it was reported that Ozone was able to provide service to their customers through the remaining Digicel towers while installing their own equipment to boost the signal in some areas.
Barbados TODAY reached out to Digicel’s Marketing Manager, Janelle Germain, who released the following statement.
“While Digicel Barbados Limited has not been contacted directly by Ozone Wireless to gain access to the sites in question, Digicel Barbados Limited regrettably will not allow access to Ozone Wireless. Digicel Barbados Limited has had to take this course of action as it has been left with no other option having made multiple attempts to recoup monies owed, and has exhausted all other avenues to do so over a period of 12 months. Digicel Barbados Limited also reserves its rights to legal action against Ozone Wireless.”
For almost a month, customers of the cash-strapped network have been complaining that not only is the service down, but all of Ozone’s customer service points are closed. Several customers told Barbados TODAY that Ozone’s data service was down since July 10 and almost a month later, they are no closer to getting any answers about the service. In addition, invoices have still been emailed.
However, this morning Kelly made it clear that he had no idea that customers were not receiving updates on their service.
“As long as I was in control of Ozone I looked after the customers and I communicated with the press so that customers would know what is going on. Unfortunately, the debt negotiations were overwhelming and about nine months ago I handed over full control to Calahub in St Lucia, run by Lester Edwards,” said Kelly.
A year ago, Ozone revealed that it was sending home 80 per cent of its workforce and would suspend all debt payments in a bid to survive a multi-million-dollar debt.
Kelly who at the time had just taken over the company in a bid to salvage the millions invested, explained that the company had frozen all debt payments until January 2019, and would reduce its staff complement from 60 to 12 employees.
He also said then while Ozone would maintain its Voice Over LTE service, its primary focus would be on data provision.
“We have a lot of debt. We owe 52 different creditors. We owe money to our landlords for tower rentals, we owe money to Flow for towers and connections. However, the amount of money that is owed is significantly less than the money that has been invested thus far and there are people lining up to invest in Ozone because they want the third player to survive,” Kelly said. He also indicated at that time that almost all of the creditors had agreed to give the company six months of breathing room.