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An old favorite in the Bahamian marketplace has been given a modern spin.
Ezminutes.com, a business recently launched by Nekia Brice, is tapping into the lesser-known e-commerce sector. And so far, the approach appears to be working. To date, more than 10,000 phone cards have been sold online as a result of Ezminutes.com.
Brice told Guardian Business that Ezminutes.com allows anyone from anywhere in the world to instantly purchase a phone card, using any internet-enabled device.
She said the company has already begun to lead the way in The Bahamas' e-commerce industry.
"We are at the dawn of the internet age here, in order for businesses to be able to compete in the future they would need to incorporate internet technology or be left with no business at all," according to Brice.
"With The Bahamas being an offshore jurisdiction for financial services, it is prime for an e-commerce boom in the near future. We want businesses to know that yes it is possible to obtain a Bahamian merchant account for accepting credit cards online. Once setup, the funds are cleared in a local bank account.
"Ezminutes.com is a Bahamian online small business which operates solely through e-commerce. We have proven it is possible and we hope to inspire others."
She pointed out that Ezminutes.com is optimized for easy navigation and few clicks from any mobile device, tablet or computer. Customers receive the pins on the website instantly once a purchase is complete. Purchases can be made using any visa or master, debit or credit card.
Brice revealed to Guardian Business due to the company's local success, plans are underway to expand to other countries. She hopes to launch a similar service in the UK by the end of 2012.
Once completed, customers will also be able to purchase UK top up vouchers for all major mobile providers, including T-Mobile, Vodafone, 02, Orange and Three.
Brice said this service will primarily target customers in the UK and anyone outside of the UK who wishes to keep their UK prepaid mobile number active.
Ezminutes.com is a product of Websoft E-Business Solutions, which provides consulting and development of online businesses in The Bahamas and throughout the world.
Brice's success comes as manager of e-commerce at MWF Group Bahamas, Damien Forsythe, recently told Guardian Business that the country is still missing out on a golden opportunity to cash in on the e-commerce sector.
Forsythe encouraged banks to provide more merchant services, as it would not only help local businesses grow but also help the overall economy by embracing this sector.
"I don't know if they are aware of the potential of those types of services," he said.
"They have really held back local businesses that want to sell online domestically and internationally. I think the banks are not thinking about it and have not been forced to think about it," he shared.
Bank of The Bahamas announced in February that it plans to launch a formal e-commerce program in the coming months.
"Cable Bahamas has earned profits of over $203 million in fourteen years."
Last week in this column, we asked our readers to consider whether the Utilities Competition and Regulatory Authority (URCA) should approve Cable Bahamas' request for an increase of the basic cable fees by as much as 27 percent. We foreshadowed a town meeting that was organized by URCA on Tuesday, September 11 to allow them to hear the public's views on the requested increase. We went to that town meeting which was well-attended, lively and, at times, even passionate.
Therefore, this week we would like to Consider This... was the URCA town meeting productive? What, if anything, did it teach us about Cable Bahamas?
The URCA-hosted town meeting was represented by some of its senior executives. Several Cable Bahamas executives were also present as well as one identifiable director of that Company. The meeting was chaired and the ground rules were clearly explained by URCA's general counsel and, except for several reminders to allow individuals to be heard, the meeting was lively and occasionally boisterous.
There were approximately 200 persons at the meeting and at least 50 of them spoke to the issue.
Not one single person who publically expressed their view felt that the increase was justified or should be approved. There was unanimous objection to the proposed price increase. We did not get a sense that anyone in attendance felt intimidated about supporting the price increase. Admittedly, URCA did not adequately explain the reason for the proposed increase, except to state that Cable Bahamas felt that the cost of programming had increased, without any statistics to support Cable's claims, as well as the fact that the cost of living had increased since 1995 by 37 percent.
Some of the sentiments expressed by participants at the town meeting included the following:
o Cable Bahamas should be ashamed of itself for asking for an increase;
o In light of the channels that subscribers are receiving and Cable's poor level of service, Cable is not entitled to an increase;
o Cable should consider keeping the current price level while decreasing the number of channels offered because many subscribers could do without some of the channel offerings;
o It is patently unfair for Cable to charge a reconnection fee of $55 or $56, particularly given the frequent outages experienced by some subscribers;
o Given its monopoly, subscribers are held technologically hostage because there is no choice of service providers;
o There are many students who rely on the Internet for study purposes and "without Cable Bahamas, we are technologically blind";
o Too many of the channel offerings are in Spanish which, in an English speaking country, is unacceptable;
o This town meeting was only cosmetic and a farce and it was felt that a decision had already been made by URCA to grant the increase;
o URCA was asked to quantify how much of The Bahamas has cable, pursuant to Cable Bahamas' mandate to "provide cable to the entire Bahamas." URCA never answered the question;
o It is grossly unfair for Cable Bahamas to charge households $30 and $50 to businesses for its monthly service. This disparity is unacceptable and unjustifiable;
o Cable Bahamas is demonstrating that it is the worst kind of corporate citizen by asking poor people for an increase while many Bahamians are still suffering the effects of the economic downturn; and
o The proposed increase of $8 for household consumers is unconscionable because with that amount "we can buy at least eight tins of tuna fish or at least three tins of corned beef".
Perhaps the biggest bomb shell was dropped when activist Rodney Moncur asked URCA to confirm that its Chairman Randol Dorsett is the lead attorney for Cable Bahamas, which Moncur maintained resulted in a gross conflict of interest. Moncur added that "it is professionally immoral for the chairman of URCA to be Cable Bahamas' lead counsel (in the Supreme Court) and therefore has no confidence in URCA's ability to be independent in this matter". The question went unanswered.
Cable Bahamas director's views
While no one from Cable Bahamas spoke at the town meeting, in an interview with one of the daily newspapers, Dionisio D'Aguilar, one of the Company's Directors, agreed that if Dorsett is still Cable Bahamas' lawyer and URCA's chairman, "that does seem to be a bit of a conflict". He was also quoted as describing the meeting as "stupid" and a "complete waste of time". He continued that for Cable Bahamas, "it made no sense for them to respond to those people". He is also quoted as saying that "those town meetings are the stupidest things that God ever created. They are always out of control; they are just a way for people to vent".
Cable Bahamas' financial results
When asked about the level of profits that Cable Bahamas has earned over the years, one of URCA's executives replied that Cable Bahamas is a public company whose profits can be viewed online. So we went online and noted a startlingly revealing history of profitability by that company. For the period 1998 to 2011, the published annual audited net profits earned by Cable Bahamas are as follows:
It is revealing that Cable Bahamas earned a net profit of $7.2 million in 1998 (its lowest) and a record high net profit of $28.5 million in 2009, or an average annual net profit of $15 million for the 14 years reported. Could it be that the company applied for a rate increase in 2011 because it realized that its annual net profits were declining from 2009 and wanted a higher return for its shareholders that approached that banner year results? Is that sufficient justification for a rate increase?
Or perhaps Cable Bahamas has noticed that, because of the economy, its subscribers have migrated from the more expensive packages to the basic package, thereby accounting for some of the decline in its profits. So, instead of applauding the allegiance of its subscribers who, in such a desperate economy, have found a way to stick with cable, albeit in a smaller way, in an example of capitalism at its worst, cable decides to raise the price of that basic package, perhaps taking it out of the reach of the very customer who has been forced to drop the more expensive package to scrap together that $30 each month. To even the casual observer, it appears to be a classic case of corporate and individual greed.
Whatever one might think about URCA's town meeting, one thing is certain. These types of public fora are indicative of a maturing and deepening democracy which enables citizens to express their views on issues of national importance. They should be encouraged and we commend URCA for hosting such meetings, even if they are uncomfortable for some of the stakeholders. To date, given the enormous profits that Cable Bahamas has earned over the years, especially in light of its cable monopoly, a persuasive argument has not been made that would support the proposition that URCA should grant the requested increase at this time, having regard for the already high cost of living that many Bahamians are experiencing.
This exercise has clearly demonstrated that such public meetings will contribute to the deepening of our democracy even while a monopolistic company is simultaneously seeking to deepen its coffers and the pockets of its shareholders.
Next week, we will consider how, from its inception, URCA seems to be plagued with charges of conflicts of interest and what can be done to overcome such perceptions and allow them to do their important work, free of the shadow of scandal.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.
While it has been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, two Berry Islands businessmen were not willing to take that chance when they found their island completely wiped off the map -- literally.
"While doing research," said resident Mark Lothian, "we came across a map of The Bahamas that the Berry Islands was omitted from."
It's a finding that inspired the soon-to-be launched BerryzBuzz.com, which Lothian and partner Norman Bastian hopes will bring a change for the island's economy.
"The global recession has impacted everywhere negatively [and] no where in The Bahamas more than in the Family Islands," said Lothian. "The Berry's, being a very small, archipelagic, spread-out community, has been especially hard hit.
"Although we have almost complete employment, the economy is still not providing a decent living wage for anyone. All the businesses have been affected and little growth has taking place in the last few years. Most residents need to have several jobs just to make ends meet."
The partners are hoping to take matters into their own hands with the launch of the website, designed around promoting the islands, its attractions and its businesses.
The owners hope to grow the island's visitor base not only in the second-home market, but also from stop-overs wanting to spend time on the island.
It's a goal officials have said won't be realized until a major hotel is built on the more populated islands that can handle the crowd.
However, Lothian and Bastian believe leaving the island in its present state - with several inns and small bed and breakfasts littering the islands -- will actually work to the benefit of the island and distinguish it from the rest of The Bahamas.
"There are people out there just looking for a place like the Berry Islands to visit and to reside: a virtually crime-free, uncrowded, unspoiled, tranquil setting for the week-end visitor and the long-term resident or investor," said Lothian. "We disagree (that a hotel must be built), there are many rooms available, provided by boutique style bed and breakfast establishments, villa and townhouse apartments and attached and semi-attached rooms in private homes.
"Most of these are owned and operated by individuals that will offer the visitor personalized service to supply all their needs and wants."
Uniqueness is what they hope to showcase with the BerryzBuzz.com website, a virtual forum to promote local merchants and service providers to potential new customers and to promote the Berry Island chain to the world via the Internet.
Given that many of the businesses there are owner operated, there isn't much room for huge advertising or promotion budgets, said Lothian.
He intends to fill that void with more affordable rates that also target corporate and national businesses as advertisers to cover the bulk of the website's operating costs. The move is expected to defray their expenses and allow them to charge less than other traditional mediums for global coverage.
"What makes BerryzBuzz.com a unique platform for advertising and promoting the Berry Islands and its merchants is the fact that it will not be a static publication," said Lothian.
"We will be actively seeking visitors and investors through the advent of e-mail, blogging, social media and live response venues as well as strategic links to affiliated websites. BerryzBuzz.com will be constantly updated and improved as we grow."
Currently under construction, the website will be launched October 1.
"It is our hope that all the businesses, local and national we approach, will support us in this endeavor," Lothian added. "We will put the Berryz back on the map."
Three hundred high-level attendees from 23 countries or jurisdictions will attend next week's OffshoreAlert Conference to discuss everything that's important in the world of offshore finance.
The event - which will be broadcast live over the Internet to those unable to attend - has sessions for buyers, providers and investigators of offshore products and services.
"A unique aspect of The OffshoreAlert Conference is that it brings together a diverse group of influential individuals from onshore and offshore jurisdictions ..."
In an effort to further enhance mobile performance, the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) has agreed to a multi-year contract with a Florida-based company specializing in roaming, messaging and networking solutions.
BTC will utilize the services of Syniverse in the hopes of improving mobile call quality for local subscribers on its network and for roaming callers that frequent the country annually.
The CEO of BTC Geoff Houston said the new partnership will be a great resource for the network.
"At BTC, we are constantly exploring new ways to enhance the mobile experience for our end users rather than managing the endless complexities that arise from having a multitude of vendor relationships," Houston said. "Syniverse brings the best of both worlds - providing the in-region expertise and solutions to optimize the experience of our subscribers and inbound roamers, while also serving as a preferred provider for so many of our mobile support needs, allowing us to remain focused on our top priority, our customers."
Syniverse provides mobile solutions for over 900 mobile operators, cable and Internet providers in over 160 countries. Its array of resources that it will offer to BTC go beyond messaging and roaming. BTC will now have the ability to proactively recognize and resolve problems such as network outages before the user is impacted.
The company should also be able to offer real-time alerting and rating capabilities that alert subscribers as they use data services at home and while roaming, and minimize the size of the uncollectable data roaming bill for BTC.
Senior Vice President of Syniverse for the Caribbean and Latin America Pablo Milkota, said BTC's commitment to improve mobile service quality is a great decision and it certainly will pay off in the long term.
"BTC is taking full advantage of Syniverse's breadth of solutions to meet and anticipate customer demands today and well into the future, while also realizing the efficiencies of a single source for advanced mobile solutions," Milkota said.
"We are pleased to expand our relationship with this forward-looking operator, building upon our long history of serving operators in the Caribbean and throughout Latin America. As a result, we now make mobile work for 95 percent of mobile subscribers in the region."
For several hours last Monday, we were forcefully reminded exactly what is meant by an essential service and what it feels like to go about our daily lives without not just one essential service, but minus a pair of them. Today, we would like to Consider This ... what do we have a right to demand from those who provide us with these important services and what should we do if those providers don't live up to their end of the bargain?
Each of us enters into contracts during our lives - contracts with our bank, our employer, even our spouse. Those contracts have very definite parameters, giving us things in exchange for our promise to give something in return. After receiving what we have contracted for, whether it is money, employment or a faithful, loving spouse, if we fail to live up to our end of the bargain, loans get called, jobs are lost and sometimes, marriages wind up on the rocks.
Then, there are the other kinds of contracts where those with whom you have the contract must continue to provide that for which you have contracted as you agree to fulfill your part of the agreement, also on an ongoing basis. These contracts are the kind we have with our essential service providers: The companies from whom we get electricity, water and telephone and, to some degree, cable television and Internet providers, although some would argue the latter are not essential services. However, after being prevented from using ATMs all over the island last Monday because of Internet related problems, many would unquestionably classify them as essential services.
So we innocently sign up for these services, being duly informed about what will happen to us as customers should we breach our part of the agreement but never asking what compensation we could expect should the service provider fail to deliver the contracted services. It rarely occurs to many of us to ask "what happens if the lights go off?" or "what do we get back if the phones fail to work?" or "what can we expect if we have to do without water?" It is almost unthinkable that things like that would happen on a protracted basis. At least it used to be.
We are now a different kind of people. We have shown that we have little patience for politicians who do not live up to their promises. We are becoming a people whose patience is wearing very thin.
We are beginning to awaken to the fact that we do have rights and that an agreement should be taken seriously - by both parties. We are embracing the idea that we do not have to settle for whatever service we happen to get, whether it is good, mediocre or downright absent, as it was on Monday past. We are starting to ask about the fairness of having to pay the same charges whether we get what we pay for or merely a pale shadow of the promised service.
Why, for example, do we have to pay the same price for rusty water coming through the taps into our sinks and washing machines that we agreed to pay for what we were assured was a clear, clean, potable product that would not ruin our clothes and force us to buy bottled water to use for what tap water is supposed to provide? Moreover, when we signed up for water, we did not expect to have good pressure sometimes and dribbles or nothing at other times.
Yes, things happen. Emergencies occur. But emergencies are becoming so commonplace that having a good steady stream of water from your tap for some areas of the nation is now the exception, not the rule. Most just suck it up, so to speak, and pay the full water bill for the less than full service they have received.
And then we have the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC). While we are growing, we were used to power failures because of "generation problems", this past week's massive outage was caused by a "surge on its system", as BEC said in its press release on the event that crippled the capital for hours on Monday past.
But, month after month, consumers who are being asked to pay astronomical bills in return for what is anticipated to be a steady supply of current are being shut off because of non-payment. Business growth is severely handicapped by the cost of electricity as well as its unreliability, caught between going broke paying for it and going broke because you can't open your business because of a power failure - a real example of being damned if you do and damned if you don't.
And what are you offered when their part of the bargain is not fulfilled and the lights kept on? True, we only pay for the power we use, but the problem is much more complex than that. We have contracted for a 24/7 supply. We construct our lives around that understanding. Our business hours rely on that. We buy our food and plan our day around the belief that we will have power. If the contract told us we would have 12 hours of electricity every day, we would plan differently. But it doesn't. And we should have a reasonable expectation when entering into a contract that it will be carried out, just as the other party expects payment. Fair is fair and it's time for BEC to level with its customers, tell us what that contract really means in terms of supply and, instead of charging us for a reliable supply of electricity, bring down the rate for the UN-reliable supply of electricity accordingly.
And then there is BTC. Today it seems as though we are held together and linked to the world beyond with our landlines, cell phones and smart phones. We conduct business, parent our children, sustain our relationships and expand our social life within and outside our communities, all via the miracle of telephony. Without it, the nurtured networks of our lives crumble. We experienced that on Monday as everything ground to a halt when, for reasons that have yet to be discovered, our telephone system failed.
Before Monday, we have been experiencing less than stellar service with our phones. Cell phone systems are being upgraded, we are told, so we are becoming used to large gaps in our connectivity. Our landline system, when it has problems, is now subjected to a new and much more rigid repair protocol that results in a longer wait-time to be resolved. Once again, we did not sign up for this when we entered into an agreement for telephone service. And we certainly did not agree to pay for mediocrity and a constantly evolving system, subject as it seems to be to a trial-and-error kind of level of service.
BTC has provided financial consideration for those who suffered through Monday's debacle but very little reassurance that things will get better as they continue to charge for connections that often do not connect. Fair is fair. As long as BTC is in the upgrade mode, tinkering with systems and fixing platforms, the rate charged the consumer - who really is becoming more of a BETA testing participant - should be adjusted accordingly - and not just for 24 or 48 hours. As with Water and Sewerage and BEC, we are paying BTC for something we are not getting, so that payment structure needs to be addressed in the name of fairness.
Until we can get what we are paying for where our utilities are concerned, being a First World nation will continue to be an elusive dream. But once we are treated fairly by those we contract to provide these services, the sky is the limit and our admission to the First World and the 21st century will be assured.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cable Bahamas Ltd. has implemented a major increase in its international connectivity to the rest of the world as part of its ongoing network optimization plans. On Monday, May 13 it boosted its capacity between The Bahamas and its primary and secondary connection points to the global Internet in the United States by over 220 per cent, or a more than six-fold increase since its undersea fiber was launched over ten years ago.
On April 22, Cable Bahamas formally launched an increase in subscriber bandwidth speed between 500 and 1,000 per cent, moving its former speed levels of 3, 6 and 9 megabits per second for residential subscribers to 15, 30 and 50 megabits per second respectively. It also introduced a new speed level of 70 megabits per second for residential customers, and up to 500 megabits per second for commercial establishments. This was the first time broadband speeds of these levels have been available in The Bahamas.
Since that launch, Cable Bahamas has seen an increase in Internet data usage of 20 per cent. "We expected that our subscribers would begin to place greater demands on our network as we opened up new speeds to them," said Cable Bahamas Director of Network Operations Oswald Dean. "And that is exactly what has happened. Our customers have had such a great experience with their new speeds that we saw a 20 per cent jump in Internet data usage in the first three weeks. They love being able to more quickly and reliably access services that need more speed, like video streaming, video chat and more demanding business applications," Dean said.
According to Head of Marketing and Product Manager for the REVON Internet product David Burrows, "Cable Bahamas is in the forefront of enabling and maintaining our country's vital links for commerce and trade." He continued, "Over the last year we have been delivering an average 23 terabytes of data per month through our network. Since the launch of our new speeds this has increased to over 28 terabytes per month. That increasing demand for traffic throughput was the motivating factor behind the move to increase the international bandwidth."
Burrows explained that The Bahamas' communication link to the rest of the world is as important to the country's existence as is air and sea travel. "Ships bring us food and commodities that we need to survive, while planes bring visitors that boost our tourist economy. Today, so much of our lives are now dependent on how we connect to the rest of the world that our economy would be severely hindered without that robust communications link."
He further emphasized that, while many residents are focused on their own home and personal Internet uses, a reliable data connection is the foundation of local commerce, enabling everything we do from education, international finance, hospitality, healthcare, emergency services, retail, travel and shipping. "Data and information is the 'new currency,'" Burrows said. "As such, we must ensure that the networks that facilitate these critical services are designed, engineered, sufficiently scaled and reliable to meet present and, more importantly, future demands."
Burrows referred to a report by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), which highlighted the importance of fast, reliable connectivity for any country's economy. "We know that broadband connectivity is now considered basic infrastructure, and this delivers important economic and social benefits," Burrows said. "In every country in the world, these networks are now just as important as transport, power or water networks. I n fact, a broadband network like ours is the lifeline of almost every area of our economy. It is vital for The Bahamas to have this infrastructure as an island nation in the 21st century to stay ahead of our regional competitors."
Dean explained that the off-island bandwidth boost was a strategic progression in the company's network evolution plans. "This increase in our international 'pipe' will ensure that we are always ahead of the demands of our consumers," he said.
The work required to put the necessary infrastructure in place began almost six months ago, and included upgrading key transport equipment and new training for more than eight engineers and technicians on the team responsible for the network.
Vice President of Information and Telecom Systems Blaine Schafer explained, "This is the result of what we call 'capacity planning'. We project our subscribers needs and plan accordingly. As people rely more and more on the broadband speeds we provide, they will start to consume more capacity. Our job is to anticipate and respond to that demand."
Internet traffic management company Sandvine has been assisting Cable Bahamas in its efforts to monitor, manage and respond to the constantly changing demands on its network.
"As the communications market and Internet usage have evolved, service providers such as Cable Bahamas look for ways to improving the subscriber experience," said Tom Donnelly, Sandvine's chief operating officer. "Cable Bahamas' management team has been dedicated to the optimization of the Internet experience for their subscribers, and has deployed Sandvine's Business Intelligence solutions to help understand and respond to how subscribers are experiencing the network, usage trends, and what service tiers may be attractive in the future."
Donnelly continued, "this gives Cable Bahamas the ability to benchmark themselves against global Internet phenomena trends." Sandvine's Business Intelligence products forecast long-term trends in consumer experience and resource utilization so that operators can proactively decide where to allocate resources and spending. Sandvine's Traffic Management uses network data to apply business rules in real-time, protecting subscribers' quality of experience under all network conditions.
Communication by Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham On the Sale of 51% of Bahamas Telecommunications Company To Cable & Wireless Communications, Plc. (CWC)
At the conclusion of my communication I will table the following documents related to the privatization of The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and the sale of 51% of the shares in BTC to Cable and Wireless Communications, Plc
It was a challenge members of the Cancer Society of The Bahamas (CSOB) could not ignore when Earle Bethell asked what the organization was doing for young adult survivors.
Contribution to Debate on the Communications Act 2009 by Education Minister, the Hon. Carl W. Bethel, M.P., 4th May 2009