By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Cable Bahamas pay-TV customers will not be compensated even though regulators found it breached both its licence terms and consumer protection regulations by delivering poor quality services in 2021.
The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), yesterday releasing its “final determination” on the probe into the BISX-listed communications provider’s TV service standards, justified its decision on the basis that it wanted the company to correct the problems rather than pay a “one-time” sum to customers.
The communications sector regulator said the “repeated loss of service” experienced by Cable Bahamas’ TV customers in 2021 meant that the company had violated consumer protection measures, as well as the pledge contained in its own licence to comply with all legal and regulatory measures connected to the Communications Act. As a result, it imposed a fine equal to 2.025 percent of the BISX-listed provider’s 2021 “monthly recurring” pay-TV charges.
The dollar sum of the sanctions imposed on Cable Bahamas is virtually impossible to specify as the company does not break down its revenues by product category in the annual report, thereby showing how much it earns from pay-TV. However, the company’s financial statements for the year to end-June 2022 described the penalty as relatively insignificant, and not material, when set against its total $218m revenues.
The latest fine is higher, in percentage terms, than the 1.25 percent of revenue imposed on Cable Bahamas in 2019 over the company’s removal of TV channels from its offering. Explaining the difference, and why consumers had to be compensated by Cable Bahamas back then unlike this time, URCA said: “At the time, URCA wanted to focus more on the compensation to customers.
“Hence Cable Bahamas was required to compensate all of the affected customers in addition to the fine. For the current investigation, Cable Bahamas will be required to pay a fine of 2.025 percent of its 2021 pay TV monthly recurring charges after accounting for the stated upward adjustments.
“Unlike the 2019 final determination, Cable Bahamas will not be required to compensate customers following this current final determination. URCA believes the focus should be on resolving the ongoing issues instead of a one-time compensation.”
URCA served notice in July 2021 that it planned to investigate the service quality offered by Cable Bahamas when it approved the restructuring of its Rev pay-TV package. The regulator said at the time it was “majorly concerned” by the length and frequency of outages suffered by customers, adding that it was unable to ignore “recurring complaints” from Bahamians about service interruptions and other issues.
Unveiling its findings yesterday, it asserted that Cable Bahamas “was aware of the faults on its network” but did not stop them recurring within 30 days from when repairs took place - a violation of the consumer protection regulations. URCA also alleged that the company “failed to address the root causes of the problems and issues”, and did not ensure staff “were aware of the potential remedies available to resolve the complaints”.
Cable Bahamas, as revealed last week by Tribune Business, has already announced its intent to appeal URCA’s findings. In the meantime, though, the regulator has given it three months - until February 21, 2023 - to “resolve the ongoing longstanding issues” such as channel error messages and pixelation.
The company must also report on the number of “legacy” TV set-top boxes still to be replaced and provide a timeline for doing so by December 21, 2022. The replacement exercise must be finished “as soon as practicably possible”, with all consumers informed in advance. And it has to explain to customers how it is resolving their service quality issues.
“The ‘error 200’ messages and pixelation continue to occur up to this day meaning that some customers have experienced these issues for more than one year,” URCA said of Cable Bahamas’ pay-TV service. “URCA considered the effects of the pandemic, supply chain issues, and other factors beyond Cable Bahamas’ control by revising its findings on the inaccurate TV guide and set-top box replacement programme.
“URCA repeats that Cable Bahamas should have commenced its set-top box replacement earlier and kept its customers informed. Regarding the blacked out channels due to restrictions placed by content providers, Cable Bahamas was not found in breach for this.” URCA also questioned why outage and fault reports were not provided by Cable Bahamas despite the regulator requesting them for its investigation.