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Cable blasts URCA’s ‘unprecedented’ bar

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Cable Bahamas was last night locked in a new battle with its regulator, as it accused the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) of stifling wireless broadband competition via an “unprecedented’ order halting construction of its new communications towers.

The BISX-listed provider, responding last night to URCA’s Friday order, effectively said the regulator was 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.

Cable Bahamas is competing with Digicel and Virgin Mobile (Bahamas) for the right to become the Bahamas Telecommunications Company’s (BTC) first cellular rival, and said URCA’s action would not impact the process.

Emphasising that it was licensed to provide wireless broadband Internet services, Cable Bahamas “expressed surprise” in a statement that URCA had issued an Order blocking construction of further communications towers until it had conducted an investigation.

Pledging that it would comply with URCA’s Order and the subsequent probe, the company said: “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. In its investigation of Cable Bahamas’ most recent infrastructure expansion, the company expects URCA to honour its obligation under the law to act in a manner that is transparent, fair and non-discriminatory.”

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.

URCA, though, in issuing its Order, said it had a responsibility to ensure that the construction of communications infrastructure did not create “a public nuisance” or impact the environment.

“URCA has noted that Cable Bahamas has been engaged in obtaining approvals for the construction of electronic communications towers and/or the actual construction of electronic communications tower structures in New Providence and Grand Bahama, without having justified to URCA the necessity of such towers, despite enquiries made and concerns expressed by URCA in that regard,” the regulator said.

“Cable Bahamas has been ordered 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.”

URCA said the Order would remain in effect until its probe was completed.

The row is likely to further aggravate what Tribune Business understands is already an increasingly tense relationship, with Cable Bahamas known to be unhappy at the relative ‘lack of progress’ URCA is making over its application for a 27 per cent increase in its basic pay-TV price, plus the infrastructure-sharing regulations that are vital to mobile competition.

And Cable Bahamas 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,” Cable Bahamas said last night.

“Cable Bahamas holds the position that there is no risk of this occurring and it has, on several occasions, reassured URCA of this.”

It added: “Cable Bahamas maintains that the new facilities will enable the delivery of services that the company is already authorised to provide under its licences granted to it by URCA.

“The company’s position is that the establishment of its new infrastructure is not subject to URCA’s oversight. URCA has indicated that it is mandated to limit public nuisances caused by electronic communications. Yet URCA has not specifically indicated that the infrastructure in question actually constitutes a public nuisance.

“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.

“URCA’s interim order places a major roadblock in the way of the company’s ability to serve its customers with innovative and reliable services. Cable Bahamas’ investors will have to bear the financial implications from URCA’s actions, as the inevitable delays jeopardise the timely roll-out of advanced wireless broadband services.”

Comments

DonAnthony 9 years, 1 month ago

It is in question as to how independent URCA really is. What is not in question is that their rulings are inconsistent with their own regulations. This calls into question their competence and the rule of law. An URCA regulation is that a basic tv service provider must make a minimum rate of return on their product of 10.86 percent. Cable in an application for a price increase two years ago proved it earned considerably less on its basic tv, in fact the price had not increased in 20 years despite costs increasing substantially. Contrary to their own regulations and the rule of law URCA ruled against a price increase, in effect forcing cable to be in violation. A regulator rules that a telecom entity must be in violation of its own rules. No wonder URCA's independence and competence is in serious doubt.

Hogfish 9 years, 1 month ago

"Emphasising that it was licensed to provide wireless broadband Internet services, Cable Bahamas “expressed surprise” in a statement that URCA had issued an Order blocking construction of further communications towers until it had conducted an investigation." .

'investigation'? HAHAHA! yoll know what that means... someone at URCA een get paid!

asiseeit 9 years, 1 month ago

The private sector needs to sue government at each and every turn, thank god for the privy council. They are our last hope at any sort of fair and balanced governance. The people that are in charge of this country are corrupt to the very fiber of their being and have zero morals or ethics. Carry they hip to court!

Economist 9 years, 1 month ago

The PLP changed the law as soon as they got in. Before when URCA charged a fee it went into URCA's account and they kept their money and independence. Under the PLP all the money goes to....you got it...the Public Treasury....err Slush Fund for irresponsible spending.

So now URCA has to beg the Gov for everything....soooo guess who controls URCA?

ThisIsOurs 9 years, 1 month ago

I'm thinking URCA is right in this situation. Cell towers can't just be plunked into communities willy nilly. Cable has no licence for cell services so there is no rhyme or reason for them to put any up.

vinceP 9 years, 1 month ago

@ Thisisours,

You are incorrect. If I'm not mistaken, when CBL purchased Indigo several years ago, they also got Indigo's license to offer wifi services, which explains the erection of those towers, which can be used for wifi antennas, as well as accommodate cellular antennas. URCA is joke, and continually display their incompetence, but nothing better should be expected under this PLP Government. It is inconceivable that URCA would promote the idea of infrastructure sharing, specifically as it relates to which PLP fraction is granted the first available license. The network failure that BTC experienced recently is a perfect example as to why this should not be allowed to happen, at least not as far as that first license is concerned. To suggest that this be the case, simply shows me that we have a bunch of jackasses at URCA, but after all, the majority of URCA's employess are former BTC employees, so its no surprise why they always come down so hard on CBL.

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