Digicel rival files Caribbean lawsuit in bid to get licence revoked

Company controlled by Liberty Global unhappy at running of 4G licence process

Digicel launched new services in November in St Lucia, followed by Grenada at the beginning of December and St Vincent and the Grenadines a few weeks later.  Photograph: Ken Cedeno/Getty Images

Digicel launched new services in November in St Lucia, followed by Grenada at the beginning of December and St Vincent and the Grenadines a few weeks later. Photograph: Ken Cedeno/Getty Images

 

A Caribbean mobile operator controlled by John Malone’s Liberty Latin America is suing a regional regulator in an attempt to get a 4G-style licence revoked from Denis O’Brien’s Digicel in Grenada and surrounding areas.

The island’s public utilities minister, Gregory Bowen, is reported to have told the nation’s parliament that a company called Flow has launched the lawsuit against the regional Eastern Caribbean Telecoms Authority (Ectel), as well as the island’s national telecoms regulator.

According to reports of Mr Bowen’s speech, Flow is alleging that favouritism was shown by regulators to Mr O’Brien’s company in the awarding of the licence, because both it and its rival applied at the same time yet only Digicel was awarded a licence.

The row centres on a permit for 700-spectrum long-term evolution (LTE) services, which are often marketed by mobile operators as a type of 4G, or fourth-generation, high-speed mobile data offering.

Digicel launched its LTE services in November in St Lucia, followed by Grenada at the beginning of December and St Vincent and the Grenadines a few weeks later. All three nations fall under the banner of the regional regulator Ectel, which also oversees Dominica and St Kitts & Nevis.

Local player

Mr Bowen reportedly told his parliament that the reason Digicel got a licence, and its rival didn’t, is because Mr O’Brien’s company was quicker to reach an agreement with Aislecom, a small, local player that already offers certain services on the 700 spectrum.

“Flow had a clash with Aislecom and discussion was encouraged . . . Matters do take time in the court, but we hope that it will work out amicably,” he said, in a report in local publication, Nation News.

Digicel declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by The Irish Times on Sunday. While it is not believed to be a formal party to the case, the lawsuit underlines the intense rivalry between Mr Malone’s and Mr O’Brien’s respective telecommunications businesses in the region.

Meanwhile, Mr O’Brien has this month taken the reins at Digicel as interim chief executive, following the sudden death of former chief executive Alex Matuschka von Greiffenclau.

The 47-year-old, who had recently finished tortuous negotiations for a bond swap for Digicel, passed away in his native Germany while on a visit to his family just days after Christmas.

The company’s chairman and founder Mr O’Brien has taken over the day-to-day running of the group until a process to find a replacement has been completed.

Mr O’Brien described his former colleague as a “committed, hard-working and exceptional chief executive” and said that “no words can adequately express our sadness at Alex’s passing”.