FLOW and DIGICEL Are SELF Regulating Entities
There is a new initiative in the market. Digicel has partnered with Adopt a Stop to provide charging points at bus shelters across Barbados – read about it Bus shelters getting charging points. The first thought was how long does one expect to be at a bus stop to be able to appreciate the value in charging a mobile device? Then reality struck with the realization that this is Barbados where we continue to struggle with public transportation. Recently the matter was robustly discussed in a forum with some of Barbados’ finest in the IT field and it resulted in some interesting information coming to the fore.
Every day Barbadians are inundated with messages from the mobile companies –the bigger faster network, the network with the fastest broadband speed, 3G,4G,4G LTE. To many Barbadians this is all greek, however, they are willing to part with their hard earned cash because it is fashionable to go with the FLOW these days.
There was agreement among some of the IT specialist in the discussion that Digicel and FLOW should allocate a chunk of their marketing dollars to improving customer service and infrastructure. We know this to be wishful thinking. Why do it if the penetration and usage rates in Barbados continue to increase?
The concern David (BU) raised in the forum was to question the role of the regulator (FTC) to independently certify that the two mobile networks are delivering on promises to consumers. Are the two networks delivering 4G services or 4G LTE for that matter? Does the FTC have a system in place to perform periodic quality assurance? How can consumers test that there is truth in the advertising by DIGICEL and FLOW.
Here is an interesting point made by one of the IT specialist:
Niel Harper David King, we would expect FTC to have a system for providing said quality assurance. As far back as 2011, both LIME and Digicel claimed to be delivering 4G services but were not. They did two things to trick an unsuspecting public:
- They used a weak loophole that the ITU permits whereby any organization that has deployed 3G+ and shows intent to move to 4G can claim that their network was 4G-ready for developmental purposes.
- They flashed the phones they sold to artificially display a 4G signal when they received a 3G+ signal.
So for almost 4 years, Bajans were told that both providers had 4G networks when they didn’t. And now the companies are really investing in 4G networks, and no one saw it fit to cite this as false advertisement back in 2011. Our regulators and government officials allowed this to happen.
David (BU) asked the IT specialist to unpack the above statement so that the non technical among us are able to understand:
The FTC or Telecoms Unit don’t employ independent assessors to validate the technology or speed of the network. Regulation is supposed to be technology neutral. That being said, a 3G network cannot crank up to 4G (it’s not technically possible). They are two different technologies; 3G is generally HSPA and 4G is LTE. 3G speeds go up to 168 Mb and 4G speeds go up to 300 Mb. And those numbers are theoretical because you will seldom get those speeds on a network you’re sharing with many users and is not sufficiently tuned or optimized. What they did is straight up fraudulent advertising.
In the same way there is a lack of financial reporting expertise in the traditional media the same applies to technology matters. The average Bajan does not know how to test for download/upload speed to keep the networks honest based on their package. The vast majority are happy to pay the bill and complain abut the service to the neighbour or work colleague.
Telecom operators generate millions of dollars annually off the backs of Barbadians. The least we expect is for our government to regulate the market with eyes wide open not wide shut. We have not forgotten the decision by the FTC to allow FLOW and C&W to merge therefore monopolizing the data segment of the market. In fact the market is still in chaos with many subscribers having to manage a two bill payment system because ostensibly FLOW continues to manage separate platforms while freely advertising as the single entity that is FLOW. We will observe if SOL is allowed to do the same to the petroleum market in Barbados given the recent sale of BNTLC. to SOL pending FTC approval –Sir Kyffin Simpson.
Many of the popular media practitioners have been co-opted by FLOW and DIGICEL to promote their products. And the media houses received significant advertising dollars from DIGICEL and FLOW.
What is the regulator doing to protect the consumer!