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BTC slams ‘excessive’ $209,488 URCA fine

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) last night slammed the $209,488 fine imposed on it by regulators for breaching mobile number portability rules as “unwarranted and excessive”.

Stephen Coakley-Wells, BTC’s director of legal and government affairs, in a response to Tribune Business inquiries said the carrier disputes the verdict by the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) and plans to launch an appeal. He argued that the incident which prompted a complaint by its sole mobile rival, Aliv, caused “minimal impact” to both Bahamian consumers and competitors.

“BTC does not agree with URCA’s conclusion that it has violated mobile number portability rules and finds a penalty, where there was minimal impact to both consumers and our competitors, to be unwarranted and excessive,” Mr Coakley-Wells said.

“We treat any assertion that we have violated our regulatory obligations very seriously, and plan to appeal. BTC continues to deploy substantial resources towards enhancing its systems to mitigate interruptions and views this as a better application of its capital for the benefit of consumers.”

However, URCA’s statement said it had found BTC guilty for the second time in six years of delaying consumers switching to Aliv, while keeping their existing number, on one of the busiest retail shopping days/weekends of the year - ‘Black Friday’.

“This determination comes after an in-depth investigation into complaints regarding delays in mobile number porting requests involving BTC and Aliv on 25-26 November, 2022,” URCA said yesterday.

“Mobile number portability (MNP) is a critical service that allows consumers to retain their mobile telephone numbers when switching from one service provider to another, promoting competition and consumer choice within the telecommunications sector.

“Under the Communications Act 2009, and subsequent URCA determinations and orders, licensees are required to facilitate this process within specified timelines to ensure efficiency and prevent consumer detriment. BTC was found to have breached the established rules by failing to comply with the timelines for responding to porting approval requests on 25-26 November, 2022.”

Those dates align with the Black Friday shopping period, when retailers typically offer major discounts to consumers, that takes place immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday. Tribune Business research showed this is not the first time BTC has been fined, and found guilty, of delaying consumer portability requests during this period as a similar incident occurred in 2017.

“URCA understands that there have been significant and unacceptable delays in the mobile number portability (MNP) service experienced by persons seeking to port mobile numbers during the course of today, November 24, 2017,” the regulator announced then.

“The fault appears to impact primarily those customers seeking to switch their service provider and port their cellular mobile telephone numbers from BTC to Aliv.” One year later, URCA ordered BTC to give 514 consumers impacted by the Black Friday November 2017 delay in switching their numbers to Aliv a $100 credit on December 12, 2018.

“URCA found that on 24-25 November, 2017, BTC failed to comply with the requirements of the rules and regulations relating to mobile number portability causing unacceptable delays to 514 customers seeking to ‘port’ their telephone numbers to Aliv,” the regulator announced in December 2018.

“BTC has paid a fine of $102,004 in compliance with an order handed down by URCA after a comprehensive investigation and determination in which URCA found that BTC had breached the regulations relating to number portability.

“The determination by URCA ordered BTC to pay $51,400 of the fine to compensate the affected subscribers as compensation for the delay caused by BTC’s breaches. The balance of the fine was paid directly to URCA.”

Yesterday’s URCA announcement doubles the fine paid for the 2022 regulatory infractions. “Such delays in the porting process undermine the effectiveness of mobile number portability, negatively impacting consumers’ ability to switch operators freely and benefit from competitive service offerings,” the regulator added.

“As a result, URCA has ordered BTC to pay a fine of $209,488 within 30 calendar days from the issuance of the order issued on April 12, 2024... Failure to comply with this order may result in additional penalties, including a fine not exceeding 10 percent of BTC’s relevant turnover.

“This determination underscores URCA’s commitment to enforcing regulations that support fair competition and protect consumer rights in the telecommunications sector. Mobile number portability is an essential service that empowers consumers and fosters a dynamic and competitive market,” URCA continued.

“URCA expects all licensees to adhere to their obligations under the law to ensure that consumers can benefit from the choices available in the market. URCA remains dedicated to monitoring compliance with telecommunications regulations and taking appropriate action to ensure the rights of consumers are upheld, and that the competitive landscape of the telecommunications sector in The Bahamas is maintained.”

Comments

Porcupine 1 month ago

After the sale of BTC to Cable & Wireless our cell phone and internet has gotten worse and worse. We used to have 2 full time technicians and regular business office hours. Not anymore. The phone and internet service on our Family Island is deplorable. Yet, BTC continues to charge as if they are delivering the service they advertise. They do not. That is called fraud. I would bet there is not one person on our Family Island who is satisfied with BTC. BTC, and URCA have been informed of this for over a decade. Nobody seems to care. Both organizations appear useless. Especially now that most all government business is online now, BTC is failing us. Thank God for Starlink. They will soon put BTC out of business. Good riddance..

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AnObserver 1 month ago

BTC needs to throw in the towel. They are a failed entity. Cut your losses, liquidate, sell to someone competent.

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