Don’t own – but keep up the pressure
Wednesday 2nd January 2013, 3:00PM GMT.
WRITING in today’s letters page, the Housing minister makes an impassioned plea for Sure, soon to come under the Batelco banner, to be ‘renationalised’ – but it’s not entirely clear why.
Yes, he talks about loss of control but, again, it is far from explicit what that actually means. Control to set prices? To insist on faster broadband? To dictate who actually owns the business?
These are not areas for government, particularly this States, which is unable even to manage its own expenditure or growth in staff and costs.
What domestic and business customers want from a telco is the best possible prices, the right range of services and connectivity and, above all, reliability and resilience.
Would things improve if Sure was owned by the States?
As Guernsey Water is discovering, negotiating a value for money service for sewage collection from States Works is to stir a hornets’ nest of questionable working practices and sweetheart bonuses.
The regulator was adamant that Guernsey Post was overmanned and over remunerated and that has proved to be the case.
The successor to the OUR also believes that Guernsey Electricity is more than a third more expensive than Jersey Electricity, which has to answer to external shareholders and whose staff each meet the needs of 142 customers. Here, staff look after just 127.
The best protection consumers can have is not therefore state ownership but competition, which is why the regulator has switched its attention towards other, less challenged, areas.
What phone customers also want is affordable roaming charges, something facilitated by being part of a wider network.
It remains to be seen what Batelco’s intentions are for the islands but it certainly talks a good talk in terms of its aspirations and its customer focus, which hinges on seeking global expansion with the emphasis on mobility and broadband.
If government has a legitimate interest it is in how to facilitate these things.
In the meantime, if ministers want to challenge – rather than own – Batelco they should seek to ensure it delivers on its mission pledge: to deliver innovation and value to its customers.
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