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Senator makes case for BTC sale

Many questions remain regarding the government’s planned sale of a majority stake in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company(BTC), but Senator Tanya Wright says businesses should be clear on the need to open the industry for competition.

Wright, who is president of World Cooperation Group, wroteGuardian Businessas a member of the private sector and said that businesses and entrepreneurs had been locked out of the lucrative industry for too long, and the sooner the state-owned monopoly is privatized, the better.

“While the jury is still out on the eventual majority owner of BTC, advocates of the business community should be steadfast in support of the liberalization of telecommunications as the benefit will inure to them,”Wright said.

According to her, from a business perspective it must be assumed that the country’s telecommunications industry should be liberalized. Based on that assumption, she said there are two questions which should be asked: Should a state owned operator be allowed to compete with its private citizens?”and should a state-owned operator exist in an environment where there is real competition?”

According to her, although some industries such as health and broadcasting have state-owned entities functioning in the private sector, the services provided are essential, and profit is neither motivation nor mandate.

“In the face of aggressive competition, BTC may find[itself], like many others, filling purely social mandates which could be costly and not profitable to the Bahamian people,”Wright said.

On the matter of BTC existing in a truly competitive environment, Wright said that BTC’s earning capacity comes into question. Despite a three-year monopoly and limits on the amount of new entrants to the telecoms arena afterwards, she said BTC in the long term”will surely see its profit margins decline to some extent not yet measurable due to competition brought about by service and pricing.”

The Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union(BCPOU), the Bahamas Communications and Public Managers Union(BCPMU)and other unions have been clear in their rejection of the sale of a 51%stake in BTC to Cable and Wireless(C&W).

“If the government is using lowered cell service costs as a selling point to say that Cable and Wireless will be good for The Bahamas, then the government can do that itself,”BCPMU President William Carroll said earlier following the Supreme Court’s order to end an”illegal work stoppage”.

“[The government]has the power,”according to Carroll.”Privatization doesn’t reduce costs. Liberalization or competition does. Cable and Wireless will still have the monopoly for the next three years.”

The unions have garnered a lot of public support, and many Bahamians are concerned about the job security of their countrymen at the company, and if the majority stake in the company will end up in the hand of foreigners.

“To me it has always been a matter of timing as to the prudence of the sale of 51%of BTC. From a private business prospective the preference would be sooner rather than later, so that the government can get on with the liberalization of the industry and more people can participate through their own ventures. Later or not at all would be a bad move,”Wright said.

She continued,”Many people have overlooked the fact that although BTC is Bahamian owned and successful, it has not been very generous with its success to its consumers, its shareholders yes, but not the consumer,”said Wright.”BTC has not really bent over backwards to satisfy the cries of its customers to meet demands of global or regional competition, having in a lot of cases shown a take it or leave it attitude towards its consumers in the face of their demands for more competitive pricing.”

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