Cable: URCA regulations ‘impede’ mobile roll-out


Tribune Business Editor


Cable Bahamas has warned that the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority’s (URCA) own infrastructure sharing regulations will prevent the winning mobile bidder from meeting the Government’s “ambitious” network roll-out targets.

The BISX-listed operator, in its submission to URCA’s infrastructure sharing consultation, effectively said the regulator’s proposal would make it impossible for the successful bidder on the second mobile licence to meet the build-out/service delivery date set out in the Request for Proposal (RFP) documents.

The concerns, Cable Bahamas said, stemmed from URCA’s proposal to “limit the granting of permits” for new mobile towers and infrastructure to areas “where it is not economically and/or technically feasible to co-locate” with the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).

“URCA’s proposed approach essentially mandates the co- location of equipment on electronic communications towers (particularly in urban areas), with the limited exception of cases where such co-location would not be economically/technically feasible,” Cable Bahamas warned.

“Cable Bahamas contends that the mandating of passive RAN infrastructure sharing in this manner, as the effective default scenario, represents an excessively intrusive regulatory approach, and fails to guarantee the new entrant access to BTC’s passive RAN infrastructure (including communications towers) in order to comply with its stringent network deployment conditions.

“It also impedes the new entrant’s ability to deploy its own passive RAN infrastructure in areas where it may wish to do so, the deployment of which is equally important to both ensuring compliance with the network roll-out requirements, and to facilitating infrastructure based competition in mobile market. As such, URCA’s proposals are discriminatory and disproportionate as applied to the new entrant against the new entrant.”

Cable Bahamas added that the significant discretion given to URCA to determine whether it was feasible or not to share BTC’s facilities “makes it very difficult for an operator deploying a new network to know and understand when it should seek to co-locate, and when it has a good case for the construction of a new communications tower”.

All of which adds to the burden the winning second cellular licence bidder faces in meeting the network roll-out/service delivery targets set in the tender documents - targets that both Cable Bahamas and Digicel, two of the three bidders, have branded as “ambitious”.

When it comes to network roll-out, the winning bidder must provide 75 per cent mobile services to New Providence/Paradise Island; Grand Bahama; Abaco and all its cays; Eleuthera, including the likes of Harbour Island and Spanish Wells; Andros; Bimini (including Cat Cay and Ocean Cay); and Exuma and its main cays within six months of being awarded the licence. This coverage must increase to 99 per cent of these islands after 12 months, and 85 per cent on Andros.

The successful bidder must also provide 75 per cent coverage to Cat Island; Long Island; San Salvador; the Berry Islands and its cays; Inagua and Ragged Island within 12 months, with this rising to 90 per cent after 18 months and 99 per cent after two years.

Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay, Rum Cay and Mayaguana are to have 75 per cent coverage within 18 months of the licence award, rising to 99 per cent in three years. And the minor Exuma cays will have 80 per cent mobile coverage from the new operator within 36 months.

The goal in the RFP is clearly for the winning bidder to provide nationwide cellular coverage within 36 months, and not just ‘cherry pick’ the main markets, as BTC and Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) had feared.

The winning bidder can also commit to a more rapid mobile services roll-out, which would see them attain 75 per cent coverage on New Providence; Grand Bahama; Abaco and all its cays; Eleuthera, including the likes of Harbour Island and Spanish Wells; Andros; Bimini (including Cat Cay and Ocean Cay); and Exuma and its main cays within three months of being awarded the licence.

Ninety-nine per cent coverage would be achieved on these islands in eight months instead of 12, with Cat Island; Long Island; San Salvador; the Berry Islands and its cays; Inagua and Ragged Island having 75 per cent coverage within this timeframe.

To guarantee these delivery targets, the winning bidder will have to obtain a performance bond, with sums ranging from $500,000 to $4 million depending on the roll-out pace selected.

Cable Bahamas, meanwhile, told URCA that its proposals amounted to a “blanket obligation to require every mobile network operator to co-locate its equipment on existing towers” - all of which are owned by BTC.

“The net effect is that the second cellular licensee will be obligated to seek BTC’s permission to co-locate all of its active RAN equipment on BTC’s towers, and will not be allowed to construct its own tower infrastructure except in very limited circumstances, following a protracted process,” the BISX-listed operator said.

It added that this impediment was being exacerbated by the proposed prohibition on locating network infrastructure at facilities owned by non-communications companies.

“We note that the success of the business case of the second cellular licensee will depend on its ability to get its mobile network up and running as quickly as possible, with the maximum possible coverage, in order to attract and grow a customer base,” Cable Bahamas said.

“Also, as URCA is aware, the new cellular licensee will be subject to ambitious network roll-out, coverage and quality of service obligations that URCA will be responsible for enforcing.

“The ‘centralised’ approach proposed by the draft regulations risks unduly restricting the possibility for the new entrant to deploy a network infrastructure of its own design. It could also significantly increase the new entrant’s network roll-out costs, and unfairly impede its ability to differentiate its offerings on the basis of superior mobile service quality and coverage,” the company added.

“In such a scenario, Cable Bahamas would be condemned to follow a legacy network design implemented by a monopoly provider, which could be expected to have taken an expedient approach when engineering its tower infrastructure by situating its towers in sub-optimal locations from a coverage and service quality perspective.

“The existence of at least two end-to-end mobile networks in a given market is key to ensuring strong competition and consumer service choice on the basis of both quality of service and price.

“The importance of infrastructure-based competition as a facilitator of better quality of service and competitively-priced retail services cannot, therefore, be overlooked by URCA.”


vinceP 9 years, 3 months ago

Listen! URCA is a big joke, and their dictatorial approach shows where their loyalty is located, and this whole cellular process is showing us just how they themselves (URCA) are not qualified to operate in the capacity that they operate in. That organization is bloated with former BTC (Batelco) employees, so there is no surprise why BTC always seems to have the scaled tipped in their favor. I'm sorry Cable Bahamas, but URCA will continue to place obstacles in your way, because anything sensible Bahamian can see that because of Cable Bahama's existing infrastructure, they would be the quickest to get their cellular network up and running. Further, what does not make sense to me is that the Perry Christie Government is here pushing for 51% Bahamian ownership in the new cellular company, when Cable Bahamas is a 100% owned Bahamian company. So lets do some math here, Cable Bahamas is a 100% Bahamian owned publicly traded company, but the Perry Christie Government, would much prefer 51% of yet another foreign company? Bluewater anyone?

DonAnthony 9 years, 3 months ago

You are absolutely right. It must be stressed that cable is 100% Bahamian owned, with the treasury and NIB currently owning 29%. They should get the next cellular license, if this govt truly believes in Bahamians. I doubt they will get it as this govt loves foreigners and hidden deals more than Bahamians which is a shame.

Sign in to comment