Opinion: Better Together…?

Cable and Wireless Promises New Company with New Benefits for Consumers

by Bevil Wooding

“We are forming a new company, with a new leadership and a new culture, putting our customers at the heart of our business.”

Those words from Cable and Wireless Communications Plc. (CWC) CEO, Phil Bentley have been echoed by executives his company and the company it acquired, Columbus International Inc (Columbus). Over the past months the companies embarked on an intense regional tour to convince governments and regulators that their companies would be “Better Together”.

With the multi-billion dollar deal now closed, the challenge before the new, larger, CWC is to convince its customers, employees, unions, partners and the region, that it can in fact complete its transformation and deliver on its promises.

telecommunicationNew or Old Wineskin?

Referring to the company’s 140-year legacy in the region, Chris Dehring, CWC’s head of regulatory affairs and government relations, says the Cable and Wireless monopoly and its reputation of high prices and poor customer service are things of the past.

“The reality is that that company that we all knew and love to hate no longer exists,” he said at a public consultation in St Vincent.

Bentley, Dehring and other CWC spokespersons insist that what is left of the original, globe-spanning Cable and Wireless is a small company called Cable and Wireless Communications, which operates primarily in the Caribbean. “Probably the biggest mistake they made was to keep a piece of the name,” Dehring once opined.

The company is promising a new approach to business largely based on the relative newness of the CWC executive leadership team. When the acquisition was announced last November, none of the company’s corporate executives, including CEO Bentley, had been with the company for more than a year.

CWC’s promise of a new corporate DNA also hinges heavily on the Columbus reputation, and leadership team CWC has acquired. Columbus’ three primary investors, including its founder and entrepreneurial driving force, Brendan Paddick, will now collectively hold a 36% stake in CWC. They also now hold CWC board seats, with Columbus largest investor, John Risley, serving as Deputy Chairman. Additionally, members of Columbus’ executive team have been placed in top leadership roles in CWC’s Network & Wholesale, Business Solutions and Retail business lines.

Motivating management and staff in the various territories will be one of the first major tests for the new leadership. The new CWC executive team will have to prove that it can establish a new corporate culture to support its plans to deliver expanded products and improved service; otherwise it will be pouring new wine into an old wineskin.

Delivering on the Promise

Whatever the integration path ultimately chosen, the union of CWC and Columbus represents a significant milestone for the Caribbean telecom sector. The new CWC will wield considerably greater influence over the trajectory of the region’s development agenda. The combination of CWC’s mobile footprint and existing fixed line infrastructure with Columbus’ subsea network, cable TV operations and fibre networks directly impacts national and regional competitiveness, investment attractiveness, broadband access, disaster readiness and other critical areas of development.

CWC’s acquired market dominance comes with a responsibility to immediately establish and demonstrate new standards for transparency, public engagement and social commitment.  At the same time, there is also an imperative on governments and regulators to provide more rigorous and coordinated oversight to ensure that consumer and national interests are safeguarded.

Bentley’s assertion is that, “together, the new merged company creates the opportunity to invest more, grow faster, and provide an improved customer experience and, most importantly, a development opportunity for our people that either company could never have achieved on their own.”

Bevil Wooding
Bevil Wooding

This is certainly an attractive proposition for consumers. However, CWC is not likely to realize these opportunities on its own. These benefits depend on the pressure applied by its competitors; the demand of consumers for its services; and the oversight of policymakers in the markets it operates in. It is the collective action of these stakeholders that will ultimately determine how much better things will be with the new CWC.

Read part One -CWC Advance with Conditions

Bevil Wooding is an Internet Strategist with Packet Clearing House (www.pch.net) an international non-profit organization responsible for providing operational support and security to critical Internet infrastructure, including Internet exchange points and the core of the domain name system. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding