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Digicel Gets URCA Approval

Although the Bahamas Telecommunications Company’s (BTC) mobile monopoly does not end until 2014, regional telecom giant Digicel is one step closer to entering the local telecommunications market as it has already received approval from the Utilities Regulations and Competition Authority (URCA).

Yesterday, Prime Minister Perry Christie gave reporters an update on discussions with Digicel executives – one of who was former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.

Recently, Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) President Bernard Evans said that his union would not roll out the welcome mat for the company.

“Digicel is not wanted by the BCPOU – period,” Mr. Evans told The Journal in an interview.

“Digicel in the Caribbean does not entertain a single union. They don’t believe in unions or workers uniting in any way, shape or form.”

But the prime minister said URCA has the decision to make.

“It is not a question of whether the union approves or the government approves,” Mr. Christie said.

“URCA is an independent body and the government was faced with the approval of URCA. URCA made the decision long ago as July to approve Digicel for the application that it made to URCA. The Government of The Bahamas has to make a determination. But I think the government is tied to a decision by a body that the government established to independently have jurisdiction on matters of this kind. And so the fact of the matter is that it is what it is.”

The nation’s chief said this is not the first time he had discussions with the group.

Digicel, which is the largest cell phone provider in the region, has presence in 32 countries.

The company put in its name to purchase 51 per cent of BTC but pulled out early.

But Digicel officials have maintained a strong interest in The Bahamas.

“We had a very interesting meeting because Mr. Patterson and the other leading executive in the company indicated the benefits to The Bahamas with Digicel coming in,” Prime Minister Christie said.

“They are prepared to assist the government in every which way and in any matter to do with communications. They are entrenched in many countries not only in the region but around the world and that they are prepared to help. The question was raised as to when the government will be liberalising and looking for new operators for mobile. We indicated that we were tied to an agreement and that was seeking advice on the agreement so that we could prepared well in advance for the competition that will be developed when the government announces that it is ready to liberalise the sector.”

Prime Minister Christie said BTC, Digicel and Cable Bahamas have all applied for broadband services.

This includes cable television, internet, telephone and mobile services.

“If Digicel receives the full approval of the government, they will have the basis of whenever liberalisation comes to convert these services that they are now being licensed by URCA. They will be able to easily or more easily convert to mobile services in the country,” Prime Minister Christie said.

“So this is really for them to get their feet into it.”

According to the prime minister, when Digicel arrives to the country it will start off small by hiring 60 people.

“They will set up offices and do all the things necessary for a company that is preparing to bid for cellular services,” Prime Minister Christie said.

“They indicated that they know they will have competition and that they would be prepared to compete.”

He added that he would take Mr. Evans’ concerns into consideration.

“The fact of the matter is it’s of public knowledge what Digicel is in the region and I have really no idea about its position on unions. It didn’t come up [Monday] and certainly I will seek to find out from the president of BCPOU what the concerns are because the Government of The Bahamas would want to know that there are no sort of obstacles that one would have to unionisation,” Prime Minister Christie said.

Kendea Smith

Written by Kendea Smith

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