After nearly five months of lobbying governments across Caribbean, British telecom giant Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) has finally announced that it has completed a US$1.85 billion acquisition of Columbus International, one of the biggest and fastest growing telecom capacity vendors in the western hemisphere.
The announcement comes just days after Barbados, the Caribbean country where Columbus International is registered, gave its conditional approval for the merger.
CWC has vowed to invest $1.5 billion to bolster its operations across the region in an apparent bid to convince other countries to swiftly approve the merger.
In January, two months after CWC announced its acquisition plans, Jamaica became the first country in the region to give it the green light. Trinidad & Tobago then gave its approval on the condition that the British firm would sell its 49% stake in local carrier TSTT.
Barbados gave its approval last Friday, but decisions from Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines are still pending.
CWC operates in 16 countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America under such brands as Mas Movil in Panama, LIME in most of its Caribbean markets, BTC in The Bahamas and Cable & Wireless in Seychelles.
In the Caribbean, Columbus operates under the brand name Flow, except for Antigua, where it serves under Karib Cable.
Barbados-based Columbus offers a range of telecom services, including high-speed Internet access and IP telephony. Reports say it is serving about 700,000 residential service subscribers in the Caribbean, Central America and the Andean region.
Columbus is mainly a telecom capacity vendor, with much of its revenue coming from the sub-sea fiber optic cable network it built linking the Caribbean with Central America and the United States.
The acquisition has angered CWC’s regional rival Digicel, whose CEO Colm Delves warned in December that the merger would create a “virtual monopoly.” A month later, Digicel acquired the Bermuda Telephone Company (BTC) although it still appears too small to provide CWC with serious competition.
The Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority has also opposed the merger, arguing that the transaction could potentially reduce choice for consumers and create barriers of entry for competitors.
But CWC’s CEO Phil Bentley has dismissed such speculation. “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,” he said.