BTC Under Majority Bahamian Share Ownership
In an address to attendees at the August 29th announcement of the majority economic interest in BTC moving to The Bahamas government and the people of The Bahamas, Phil Bentley, CEO of Cable and Wireless Communications, (CWC) foreshadowed new initiatives and plans to transform BTC into a world class telecommunications company. Top of the list, a $170M investment upgrade in BTC networks and to deliver additional services over the next three years to include BTC TV; US60M deployment in cell sites and more powerful radio signals across the entire Bahamas delivering the fastest mobile network in the Caribbean; US$8M nationwide power back up investments to negate BTC outages.
Mr. Bentley began his address with a brief historic overview before foreshadowing BTC’s way forward for the immediate future.
“This journey began back in 2012. Back then, the BTC Committee and Cable and Wireless came with different points of view. But, over a period of time, our interests eventually came together in the form of the BTC Foundation.”
He also thanked and congratulated the members of both Committees admitting that ‘though views often differed, discussions and negotiations remained professional and cordial.
“This groundbreaking agreement is good for BTC - creating stability in our investment climate; it’s good for our business partner, the government; and most importantly, it’s good for the Bahamian people, as the Foundation starts to invest in good causes,” said the CEO.
Mr. Bentley referenced the Prime Minister’s Opening Address remarks on his ‘big dreams’ at the recent successful regional telecom industry conference CANTO held at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau.
“Mr. Prime Minister, as you demonstrated at your CANTO address earlier this month, you are a man with big dreams. So am I. It’s now time look forward to make what we dreamed, a reality.
“You and I share a dream to transform BTC into the world-class telecommunications company The Bahamas so very richly deserves. You and I shared a dream that to make this a reality, we needed a fully qualified Bahamian to lead the company. I’m delighted that Leon Williams accepted this challenge. Leon, you and your team have a big task ahead of you. But you have a passion for this business and this country - as you relentlessly pursue excellence, so will you succeed - on behalf of everyone here, I wish you and your team well,” said the CWC CEO
He continued: “And as part of that dream of making BTC a company all Bahamians will be proud of, and as liberalisation approaches, I’m pleased to announce that I have approved the biggest capital investment programme to be undertaken in this company in the past 30 years. To realise our dream, we are investing over $170M to upgrade our networks and to deliver additional services over the next three years.
Mr. Bentley said the Prime Minister wasn’t alone in, “daring to dream big dreams” as he and BTC CEO Leon Williams also dared to dream of what could be.
“We dare to dream of no more dropped calls. Over US$60m of our upgrade investment is going into more cell sites and more powerful radio signals, across the entire Bahamas delivering the fastest mobile network in the Caribbean.
“We dare to dream – and I know this is important to our regulators - of no more power outages anywhere in our network because of our US$8M power back up investments. We dare to dream that the Baha Mar luxury resort will offer “always-on” and seamless mobile and WiFi signals and high definition TV services, encouraging more visitors to return each year.
“We dare to dream that our $40M broadband and fibre network investment will mean young Bahamians can download their favorite songs in just 3 seconds. We dare to dream that our $25M multi-protocol label switching investment will provide business customers with the most secure network in the Caribbean. We dare to dream of a new TV offering to beat Cable Bahamas – that’s why I am announcing today that BTC TV - giving our customers choice and value-for-money.
“We dare to dream that you can check your bills and pay online through our new BTC App. In short, we dare to dream of a new BTC! Setting new standards of excellence, upgrading our networks, adding TV and entertainment, listening to customer feedback, making things better everyday! And yes, I dare to dream that Cable & Wireless’ US$1B uplifted 3 year investment plan across multiple Caribbean countries will revolutionise how our customers live, work and play in the communities we serve.
Mr. Bentley then turned his attention to the governments’ commitment to provide a ‘best-in-class’ telecoms infrastructure.
“Let me end with some final remarks on the ambition of this country, and the Government’s commitment to provide a Best-in-Class ICT Infrastructure to its residents and businesses. And I was delighted to hear that your Central Information Technology department recently hosted a mission from the United Nations to formulate a strategic approach to Modernization of the State through ICT investments. This is something very close to my heart.
“Let me state at the outset, that I commit the new BTC, along with the new Cable and Wireless, to play an active role in this programme; charting the way forward to reduce the Digital Divide across the family islands; building, in your words, Mr. Prime Minister, an “ICT mecca of assembly lines, Data Centres, IXPs, becoming the Caribbean Silicon Valley”.
“Of course I’m excited about this dream, but as one of the biggest investors in the region, I also have some advice to you – the leaders of The Bahamas.
Now, I was appointed CEO of Cable & Wireless 8 months ago. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling the region – we operate in 16 countries - talking to other Prime Ministers. Indeed, last week alone, I met with 4 Prime Ministers. And I have to tell you, they have the same dream; they too want to create the Caribbean Silicon Valley; they too aspire to have the fastest network in the region.
“So, here’s the issue - as a businessman, accountable to my shareholders, I simply can’t make the same amount of investment in every market. So where will we invest, as Cable & Wireless? And which Caribbean country will be the winner in the race to ICT leadership?
To invest, we must have the right investment climate. We must have the confidence in fair regulation – nothing does more to shatter confidence than unfair regulatory rulings. We must have efficient importation laws and taxes – some countries have lowered duties on smart phones to encourage take-up and I’d encourage the same response in the Bahamas. We must also have the flexibility to engage the services of international specialists to provide the local training to get the job done on island.
“I hear the phrase “Bahamas for the Bahamians” – but it can’t be. The world is now a global village. It’s “The Bahamas for the world” and “the world for The Bahamas.”
And I know he isn’t here today but I’d like to single out my appreciation to the immigration Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, the Honorable Mr. Fred Mitchell in getting the required international skills on to the island. When they leave, these people leave a rich legacy of skills embedded in the Bahamian people. And we must have a flexible labour force; the confidence that we are in it together with our union partners; we can’t fight a new entrant with one hand tied behind our back. This is how you encourage investment, ladies and gentlemen.
“And with investments comes the need for a fair return. This brings me to the word “profit”.
“Returns and profits are not immoral or bad words. The more profitable BTC is, the more investments we make; the more investments we make, the better our service to customers; and of course, the more profits we make the more dividends are paid to our government partners.
“So let’s not forget how we should judge success in this historic agreement - the more successful BTC is, the more that will be paid into the BTC Foundation to support good causes. So please, customers of BTC, don’t switch to a new entrant! Will a new entrant spend US$170M in the Bahamas? Will a new entrant invest in Abaco and Andros and Cat Island and Crooked Island and Mayguana and Inagua, and connect all the family islands? Will a new entrant work with union partners? So I say this to you. Don’t let the new entrant prosper at the expense of BTC and don’t let the BTC Foundation lose out on funding good causes.
Mr. Bentley said it was the Prime Minister’s dream to have a BTC philanthropic Foundation that could invest in good community causes or directly in people to further their dreams and those of the country. Athletes such as Tonique Williams-Darling, Pauline Davis-Thompson, Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie and the Golden Knights were examples.
“The dream of this nation is to unleash the talents of young Bahamians who themselves dare to dream to be the next Usain Bolt or Frank Rutherford; the next tennis star like Mark Knowles; the next professional basketball player, like Michael “Sweet Bells” Thompson – they too had a dream.”
The CEO aid that The BTC Foundation will also help to fund the artistic abilities of the nation’s next Amos Ferguson, Antonius Roberts or screen stars, such as Sidney Poitier or Esther Rolle. He said he was humbled and privileged to play a small part to support the giant ambitions of a proud nation that punches way above her weight.
Mr. Bentley ended his speech on the BTC Foundation.
“Bahamians are a people of energy and possibilities. As a manifestation of this, I commend the BTC management team to you. They will deliver for the Bahamas. They have to deliver for The Bahamas – and for me! They will ensure that BTC and the BTC Foundation prosper, and they will bequeath to the next generation a rich legacy that will continue to make The Commonwealth of The Bahamas a leader among her peers. Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to be here, and I commend to you – the people of the Bahamas - the BTC Foundation.”
The majority economic interest in Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) now resides with The Bahamas government and the people of The Bahamas, following the completion of all legalities required for the transfer of a two percent shareholding in BTC from Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) to the BTC Foundation. The other shareholders are the Government of the Bahamas (49%) and CWC. CWC retains Board and management control.
The two percent shareholding from CWC will be held in a charitable Trust for the people of The Bahamas and called the BTC Foundation. As a two percent non-voting shareholder, The BTC Foundation will receive two percent of BTC’s dividend payments.