By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Cable Bahamas’ battle with URCA over its communications tower construction has intensified, after the regulator accused the BISX-listed provider of breaching its order to halt their build-out.
The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), in a little-publicised May 27 release, alleged that Cable Bahamas had “contravened” its April 17 order prohibiting the construction of more communications towers.
URCA said: “The public will recall that on 17 April, 2015, URCA issued the said interim Order to Cable Bahamas, ordering Cable Bahamas to immediately cease and desist from erecting or completing any electronic communications towers anywhere in the Bahamas, pending URCA’s conduct of a full investigation into the matter.
“During the course of URCA’s investigations on 18, 19 and 20 May, 2015, URCA became aware that employees or agents of Cable Bahamas appeared to be continuing works on four electronic communications tower sites in New Providence, in contravention of the said interim Order.”
URCA said it had issued a ‘preliminary determination’ to Cable Bahamas on May 26 over the alleged breach of its tower construction ban, and given the BISX-listed communications provider a month to respond.
David Burrows, Cable Bahamas’ senior vice-president of marketing, yesterday told Tribune Business that Cable Bahamas had duly submitted its response to URCA’s accusations on Monday evening.
“The company, as I understand it, responded to that last evening,” he said. “The company has responded to URCA. They have a response from us.”
Mr Burrows declined to specify the details in Cable Bahamas’ response or give further comment, likely due to the fraught relationship it currently has with the regulator and its participation in race for the Bahamas’ second mobile licence.
That process involves heavy input by URCA, not least in the spectrum auction, which the regulator will run on the Government’s behalf.
It is unclear whether the deepening dispute between Cable Bahamas and the regulator is part of the “recent developments” referred to by Prime Minister Perry Christie in his recent Budget address, which he said had forced URCA - in conjunction with the Cellular Liberalisation Task Force and its advisors - to delay the spectrum auction “to ensure that the integrity of the selection process is preserved”.
Cable Bahamas has consistently argued that the communications towers it has been constructing are to deliver improved wireless broadband (Internet) services to its Bahamian customers - and are not a mobile/cellular network.
However, some observers are likely to be suspicious that Cable Bahamas has been getting ‘a head start’ on its mobile infrastructure/network roll-out, given the tight schedules in the tender document that the winning bidder must adhere to.
Cable Bahamas, in responding to the original April 17 ‘bar’, effectively accused URCA of contradicting its own legal mandate to promote competition, investment and innovation in the communications market, and the services offered to the Bahamian people.
And it also suggested that URCA’s supposed independence from the Government may have been compromised, questioning whether the Order was designed to “short circuit” the bidding process for the second Bahamian mobile licence.
Emphasising that it was licensed to provide wireless broadband Internet services, Cable Bahamas said then: “To the best of Cable Bahamas’ knowledge, URCA’s actions are also unprecedented.
“The regulator has never before attempted to block improvements in the provision of electronic communications services in the Bahamas by taking regulatory action to prevent a licensee’s lawful construction of network infrastructure.
“In recent months, other telecommunications providers have constructed numerous towers without any known action to prevent such activity.”
The BISX-listed communications provider said it had already informed URCA why the new towers were being built, adding that it had reassured the regulator they were not for the provision of mobile services - something that would breach the Bahamas Telecommunications Company’s (BTC) exclusivity.
Cable Bahamas then accused URCA of failing to follow “good regulatory practice” by not allowing the company to address its concerns over the new towers.
“It appears that URCA may not be acting independently of the Government, and taking such action to stop the company’s infrastructure development is possibly for the sole purpose of short-circuiting the cellular tender process,” it said.
“The impact of URCA’s actions could hurt the development of the telecommunications sector in the Bahamas. In practice, these actions would block new infrastructure construction for the provision of any existing and new services, including those for which a company has already secured a licence.
“Furthermore, the prohibitive red-tape sponsored and promoted by URCA for this type of infrastructure development will stifle the roll-out of facilities required to offer any type of wireless-based services. Cable Bahamas believes that the primary loser is the Bahamian public, who will not see the benefit of service innovation and competition, of which the market is sorely in need.”