TelEm heats up debate at CarPIF conference

MAHO–Assuring a fair return for millions of dollars of investment into a brand new island-wide fibre optic network for St. Maarten and the possible sharing of that network with competing carriers was a “hot talking point” at the opening of the Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Forum (CarPIF) Conference at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino, Wednesday.

Keynote speaker Bill Woodcock, from the USA, had suggested in his opening remarks that a good model for St. Maarten would be allowing government a 20 per cent share of the newly built fibre infrastructure that government can then sell at a more affordable price than if the prices were left to the incumbent operator alone to determine.

The comment did not sit well with TelEm Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kendall Dupersoy, who questioned why anyone, government included, would be entitled to a free ride on the new network and as a money-making venture, without making a cent of an investment into that network.

“The same way government or anyone else can sell the bandwidth given to them for free, so can TelEm sell and obtain revenues for a proper return on its investment,” said Dupersoy.

The CEO said he is even more concerned that should TelEm Group cede any of its network to government or third parties, there would be nothing to stop “cherry-picking” by these entities to a point where TelEm, as the supplier of the service, would end up being squeezed out of the same market it has created.

A panel discussion was also held that included Woodcock, TelEm Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Helma Etnel, UTS Chief Operating Officer (COO) Exi Luijando and Bureau of Telecommunications and Post St. Maarten Head Technical Department Sidney De Weever.

The matter of return on investments came up again, but this time with the UTS representative Luijando, indicating that the company is in favour of a shared infrastructure for St. Maarten similar to what the company is currently putting in place in Curaçao.

Etnel said this may well be the case now, but for quite some years, UTS in Curaçao has refused to share its network and is in fact only doing so now that it has already recouped a large share of its own initial investment. “We would also want to be in a position to get back the huge investment we are making and then we can talk about sharing,” the CFO said. She said the debate about sharing would be moot if the same entities who are now keen to share would be just as keen to share in the investments that have to be made now.

De Weever said the ultimate aim is to provide an infrastructure that is cost effective and affordable to everyone and at the end of the day, the most successful provider will be the one who provides the best service for consumers, since it is service alone that will differentiate providers on a single network.

Apart from the CEO, who also joined a panel discussion during the afternoon session and the CFO, other TelEm Group and sister company St. Maarten Cable TV personnel also attended the conference in good numbers. The CarPIF conference continued at the same venue on Thursday.

Source: The Daily Herald