June 12, 2014
A leading businessman has argued that BTC will suffer a "gut wrenching annihilation" unless newly-appointed chief executive officer Leon Williams is able to improve its "downright awful" service levels.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, president of Superwash and former president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, said service levels provided by the company are so bad that it has done a "disservice to privatization" in The Bahamas.
He made his comments in the wake of BTC Chairman Phil Bentley's announcement on Tuesday that current CEO Geoff Houston will be replaced by Bahamian former CEO, Williams, who was fired from the same post at the company prior to privatization in 2008.
Williams has been appointed on a 12 month contract, as the company gets set to face its most intense period of competition to date, following the expiration of its right to a monopoly on cellular phone services.
While some have questioned whether politics played a part in Williams re-appointment - a claim Bentley vehemently denied on Tuesday - and whether Williams is the right man to lead BTC toward privatization, D'Aguilar said Williams delivered better service than Houston has during his tenure, and therefore he is hopeful.
"If Leon Williams can change this dynamic, then more power to him. He may not have run it as profitably, but at least he delivered better service. When Leon Williams was managing director there was never a complete meltdown of the phone network in this country. That has happened twice under Geoff Houston," said D'Aguilar.
BTC's exclusivity on cellular services expired in early April, and the government, which owns 49 percent of the company, has committed to ensuring that a competitor provider can enter the market in the shortest possible time.
At present, a committee has been launched to guide and oversee the process but it has yet to be formally initiated.
Speaking of the competition BTC will face when a new provider enters the market, D'Aguilar said: "I have this feeling that when that monopoly is finally broken - and I pray and beg the government to hurry up and issue a license - just as (BTC) have lost long distance and Internet, so too they will lose the cellular market, hands down. People will bolt out of the door. It is awful and getting worse by the day. Geoff Houston should've been fired, the service is so crappy."
"They are in for a gut-wrenching annihilation when competition comes in, unless they improve the quality of their service. They've got about 18 months to do that."
D'Aguilar said that, despite repeated promises of upgrades to their service and products, BTC has been unable to consistently ensure that basic service expectations will be met - that calls can be made and text messages will go through.
"I don't want any more sexy products. I don't want to be able to turn on my coffee machine from my cell phone. I just want to be able to make a call or send a text. The fact that BTC has been bragging that they have increased the rate of dividends they're paying and yet the service has deteriorated to the level it has is shocking. I don't understand how we put up with this, how we are not screaming. The amount of dropped calls, dead zones...I think the management of BTC must live in a bubble."
D'Aguilar said he was a proponent of privatization, but the experience under Cable & Wirless has not met his expectations. He said the company needs to be called to task over the failure to perform.
"Cable & Wireless have been an enormous disappointment. They are awful," he added.
The businessman and former board member of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation said that BTC must be held to account as to when they will deal with what he described as a variety of longstanding "dead zones" for cellular service throughout the island, including Baillou Hill Road.
During a conference call with investors about its results for the recently-ended fiscal year, Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) announced a $1.05 billion investment program across its 13 Caribbean markets in the next three years.
Speaking on Tuesday, Bentley said that of this figure, CWC via BTC will engage in a $200 million investment program in The Bahamas that will see investments made in improving its mobile network.
"We are aware that dropped calls are still an issue," he said.
Responding to D'Aguilar specifically, Marlon Johnson, BTC senior vice president, marketing and communications, said that BTC is well aware it has some "problem areas" in New Providence for cell phone service and reiterated that these are issues that the $200 million capital investment program mentioned by Bentley would seek to address.
"We are going to add coverage in areas where customers do see chronic dropped calls, so we are not shying away from the fact that we do have some problems areas. We are moving ahead with the necessary investment in infrastructure to allow that to happen."
Asked to respond to D'Aguilar's claims that customers are rearing to quit the company, Johnson said: "We are confident we'll have world-leading network by the time competition gets here."
Johnson said the company is not "thrilled" with the pace at which it has been able to make progress in this regard, but it is conscious of the problem and seeking to fix it.
He added that placing new cell towers to enhance call service can be a lengthy process, as it requires a land acquisition, regulatory approvals and more.
Johnson also commented that service level challenges have to be placed "into context".
"Right now with the cellular network we've moved from 2.5 million calls to our network to 3 million calls a day, so we have a lot more traffic. That's a testament to the expansion in our network over the last three to four years.
"We do recall a time in the not too distant times where in the evenings you could not make a cellular call in the Carmichael Road area, period. There was a time in our past when we had a moratorium on cell phone calls because the network wouldn't handle it."
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