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Extending BTC cellular monopoly a bad idea

Published: Aug 17, 2013

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Political terms in office go by quickly.  The last year of five-year terms is usually dominated by more politics than governance.  Wise political parties do all they can in their first four years and do not waste time chasing silly objectives.

For some reason the governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is fixated on reacquiring the majority stake in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).  Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) owns 51 percent of the company and the government the remaining 49 percent.  

CWC does not want to sell the government controlling interest in the business.  The PLP is trying to convince the firm to do so.  The PLP could nationalize BTC but such a reckless act is highly unlikely, as it would damage the international reputation of the country.

The latest idea to lure CWC to the PLP’s position is extending the firm’s cellular monopoly, which is scheduled to end next year.  Such a move would be bad for Bahamians.

The telecommunications policy of the government of The Bahamas is to move towards liberalization of the sector.  Liberalization will create new businesses (more jobs) and add competition, which should enhance the quality of service received by customers.  And when it comes to the cellular service in The Bahamas, better service is desperately needed.

BTC has invested tens of millions of dollars in its network in recent years in an effort to keep up with the times.  However, Bahamians are frustrated by the frequency of dropped calls, poor reception and the inability to connect with others quickly.  We all want better cellular service.  One sure way to make BTC better is for there to be competition.  If a new company comes into the market and it is able to deliver better, BTC would be forced to finally fix its network problems or face extinction.

The old PLP was known for its regressive policies regarding the media and communications.  Sir Lynden Pindling’s PLP, for example, kept a broadcasting monopoly.  It took the new Free National Movement (FNM) administration post-1992 to open up the airwaves.  Sir Lynden’s PLP was also of the mindset of those times, believing widespread state ownership of the economy was the best model for social development.  Thankfully, those with sense have come to know the ignorance of that position.

Here stands Perry Christie – the man who has the decision to make.  Chasing pseudo-nationalism with no logical or practical benefit, Christie wants majority control of BTC.  His concern should be to help foster job creation, lower prices and better service through competition.  His other concern should be fostering increased Bahamian ownership of the economy.  And by Bahamian ownership we do not mean state ownership.  There is a difference.  

At this stage of our national development, the government should be working toward facilitating direct ownership of sectors of the economy by Bahamians through its policies and decisions.  This could be through share offerings – as was the plan of the last FNM administration with some of BTC – or the direct sale of state enterprises to Bahamians or Bahamian joint ventures with foreign partners.

The government controlling BTC again is no victory for Christie, the PLP or The Bahamas.  The governing party should move on from this obsession with policies of the past.  The government of The Bahamas has a poor record managing nearly everything it touches.  Its hands need to release more of what it now controls rather that seeking to reacquire what it has already let go of.

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