Prime Minister Perry Christie revealed Wednesday that he has appointed a special taskforce to supervise the process of granting a new cellular licence to one of the four companies that have expressed interest in entering the mobile telecommunications market.
Digicel, the largest mobile telecommunications provider in the Caribbean, has long thought to be the frontrunner in entering the Bahamian market, but the prime minister maintains that at this point no decision has been made and the taskforce he said is charged with reviewing all applicants.
“There are at least four companies that have expressed interest in coming in, Digicel is just one of them,” Mr. Christie said. “Cable Bahamas is one of them and a company that we just looked at [Wednesday] is another one of them. We expect therefore, a process where the taskforce will select the company that they think is qualified for consideration.”
Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC), which owns The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), held exclusive rights on the mobile market through an agreement it reached with the previous administration.
That agreement expired earlier this year.
The road to liberalising the Bahamian mobile telecommunications market will be a gradual one with first one company being allowed to enter and then additional companies in the coming years.
Before any final decision is made, Mr. Christie said the taskforce’s recommendations will need the approval of the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA).
URCA will conduct an auction that will determine which of those companies is prepared to give the most for that licence, the prime minister said.
During an appearance on Jones and Company earlier this month, BTC’s CEO Leon Williams admitted that BTC is not ready for competition.
He cited a number of challenges plaguing the company as reason for why the introduction of new companies in the mobile market will be a challenge for the company.
“We still have a number of improvements that we need to make to our network and our customer service,” Mr. Williams said. “My first order of business still remains changing the culture of the company and regaining the trust of our customers. Quite frankly, we have lost the trust of our customers and so with the introduction of competition we could expect to lose at least a third of our customers.”
Mr. Williams who previously headed BTC was fired back in 2008. He was renamed CEO in June of this year.