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Aruban investors shut out of telecoms market

Mark Vanterpool. File photo

While stating that he expects more investments from the players that are already in the local telecoms market, minister responsible for telecommunications Mark Vanterpool yesterday made it clearer that Government is blocking other companies from entering the market.

He disclosed during an event hosted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission that, a few years ago, he shut out some Aruban investors.

“About two or three years ago, some investors from Aruba came to my office wanting to get involved in the industry here. I said to them we had some players already and we wanted to support them,” Vanterpool said, while he reiterated that he is particularly interested in supporting the only 100 percent local provider – Caribbean Cellular Telephone (CCT ).

The minister added: “On the Government side, we have a policy that we adopt. We are here to represent our people, and people misunderstand me when I tell them we want to make sure that our local company CCT survives and can compete… Overall, yes, BVIslanders first. That’s what our job is as [elected] representatives. So, let’s do it right and make sure our people can survive in our economy of the Virgin Islands.”

In addition to CCT, the other players in the local telecoms market are Digicel and Flow.

 ‘Grateful’ for existing companies

Vanterpool publicly told representatives of the telecoms companies yesterday (May 17) that the British Virgin Islands is grateful for their investments, adding that he understands they are in a relatively small environment trying to make a profit.

“I don’t want for us as a territory – as I represent our people, to seem ungrateful, because there is a lot of investment being made by all our providers, and we want to thank you especially since you’re making these investments in a relatively small environment in terms of numbers. So, we do appreciate the investment and look forward to seeing improvements,” Vanterpool said.

“I want to encourage them to keep working hard as they do because, at the end of the day, it’s their business. It’s for you to be successful.”

The minister also noted that he, as a businessman, can relate to some of the challenges the telecoms companies face.

“I don’t want to be in an instructive way today; I wanted to just have a little talk. I didn’t want to come up here and just make another speech again and say what I am not happy with and what I am hoping to see, because I do understand the challenges. I am a businessman myself and I know that there are challenges. You are in a competitive mode. You made huge investments, and I know that you will make some more as you go along to make things happen. So, I want to encourage you to keep working at it,” added the telecoms minister.

There should not have been 3

It is not the first time that the number of companies operating in the local telecoms market has been brought into sharp focus.

Minister of Education and Culture Myron Walwyn, as well as Minister of Health Ronnie Skelton, previously lamented the entry of a third provider – Digicel.

Digicel started to operate in the territory while Julian Fraser of the Virgin Islands Party was the minister responsible for telecommunications.

Fraser, who also represents the Third Electoral District, had been criticized publicly for Digicel’s entry.

“A little place with 32,000 people; what we have with three cellphone companies? Somebody got to dead and more than likely it will be your own (inaudible) carrier,” Walwyn told the House of Assembly in 2014.

At the time, Skelton also said: “Single-handedly, [Fraser] bring in Digicel in a little 30,000-population. I wonder what is happening in the BVI, because 30,000 [people] and everybody wants to do these trying things with BVI; three telephone companies; one will die… The member for the Third as minister singlehandedly did all these things.”

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