FLOW’s Broadband Increase Denied by ECTEL

by Linda Straker

The Council of Ministers for the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunication Regulatory Authority has said that the announcement by FLOW to increase its broadband service goes against the spirit of the discussions between the merging parties and the Regulator.

“The Council demands that the merging parties honour the commitments including the provision of services at affordable prices, which have been made to the Regulator and also announced publicly,” said the communiqué issued by ECTEL following last Thursday’s meeting in St Kitts, where the Ministers discussed a number important issues including the merger of Cable & Wireless Communications Plc. and Columbus International Inc; FLOW’s announced increases in broadband prices, the draft Electronic Communications Bill, Spectrum Management, Roaming, Number Portability, the Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Project (CARCIP), and the ECTEL Work Plan and Budget for 2015/2016.

“It is the Council’s desire to continue to protect the interest of consumers and advocate in the best interests of the citizens of the ECTEL Member States. We encourage all stakeholders including consumer agencies to come together in a united effort to ensure that the merging parties adhere to and not delay implementation of the conditions agreed with the Regulators,” said the communiqué which stated that ECTEL will provide full support to the efforts in Grenada to address the situation based on the powers of the Regulator as provided for in the revised Retail Tariff Regulations. Grenada was represented at the by ICT Minister Gregory Bowen.

Part III of SRO 54 of 2014 which is entitled “POWERS OF THE COMMISSION” says that the National Telecommunications and Regulatory Commission shall have the authority to regulate the rates, terms and conditions of telecommunications services offered by a telecommunications provider. The rules also state that the Commission shall have the authority to: set, review and approve tariffs for any telecommunications services and require the publication of all tariffs for telecommunications services, whether regulated or unregulated.

ECTEL said at a meeting between the merging parties and ECTEL/NTRC on 13 July 2015, that the merging parties expressed their commitment to the goals proposed by the ECTEL Council of Ministers on matters relating to net neutrality and the unrestricted use of Over the Top Services, roaming, a harmonized entry-level broadband package and permitting customers to migrate to the most favourable service plan for them.

“The merging parties also committed to working with the Council of Ministers and ECTEL to ensure that services were offered at affordable prices and at the highest quality levels. During that meeting, the merging parties accepted the conditions proposed by ECTEL for approval of the integration of their business,” said the Communique which explained some of the conditions.

These conditions include:

  1. Access by other licenced telecommunications providers to the facilities of the merging parties on a non- discriminatory basis
  2. Provision of basic retail broadband internet service in each of the Member States with transmission speeds of at least 5 Mbps, priced per year at not more than 3% of GNP per capita
  3. Allowing their customers of fixed broadband, fixed voice and subscriber television services to migrate to another plan without the imposition of penalties
  4. Compliance with the principles of Internet Neutrality which enables access to content and applications without favouring or degrading access to websites or content. Subsequently, ECTEL submitted a draft of the Agreement reached for perusal by the merging parties

On 14 September 2015, ECTEL said it received in response, an amended version of the draft Agreement from the merging parties. Having reviewed the amendments it was found that they rendered the Agreement unenforceable.

“The proposed amendments from the merging parties have therefore been rejected by ECTEL. It is unacceptable that at this time when the wordings of conditions agreed to are being finalized, FLOW has announced its intention to increase broadband rates in the territories affected by the merger,” said the Communique.

During the first 2 weeks of October, FLOW contacted customers via email and telephone informing them, as of 1 November, that prices for broadband will increase by EC$20. FLOW is yet to response publicly to the announcement by ECTEL that it has rejected its proposal to increase the price of broadband.

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