The world’s worst phone company – and why I can do nothing about it

Posted By Hilath

Cable and Wireless logo

I first came across this article while working at Haveeru Daily. We took the risk and ran this article in full in the English section.

Perhaps the Maldivian people at large must still be missing out on this because it’s not in Dhivehi. I am thinking of translating this and perhaps put in

But I’m not making any promises. Though there are many articles out there I would like to translate into Dhivehi for the benefit of ordinary Maldivians, fact is that I have to work to support myself for freelance work and I have little time for anything else. But I will do my best: like this one I wrote in Dhivehi about ROL’s screwed up Internet service.

I have this fantasy that one day, a Capitalist with a heart (ironic I know) will come up to me and tell me, “Hilath, I will pay you this much every month; stop all your other work and instead just concentrate on writing in Dhivehi (and also English) those articles which will help to enlighten ordinary Maldivians and bring about the real social change we all seek.”

Sometimes I wish I was a rich bastard with my own land for rent so that I can afford to concentrate only on my social work without having to worry about freelancing to keep the income coming to support my hunger and bills.

But as most things in Nature are ironic, I guess all the money is now concentrated in the hands of rich bastards who don’t give a damn about the plight of ordinary Maldivians and would rather spend their easily got money on shopping sprees in London. Because they get so much money without actually having to work for it, they don’t really value it.

It is poor idealists like us who wake up every day frustrated because we have only enough money to eat and spend on our bills and however much we dream about helping other people, we don’t have the means to do so.

Anyway, thanks to fellow bloggers, I’m posting this article again hoping it serves as another wake-up call to Maldivians (at least the ones who understand English). This article should forever haunt Dhiraagu, Cable & Wireless and Communications Authority of Maldives:

Original link

The world’s worst phone company

by Graham Lynch*, 15 April 2001

It is praised by financial analysts for its remarkable re-invention. It praises itself for what it claims is the world’s most technically capable IP network. But it still makes too much of its money via neo-colonialist monopoly arrangements in third-world countries.

The company is Cable & Wireless. And despite the rave reviews, it remains a company that makes money in odious ways.

Cable & Wireless has a proud beginning, building the first submarine cables in the 19th century. Not long after, it spread out, taking advantage of the economic reach of the British Empire to secure itself telephony franchises in the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific Ocean and British Far East Asia.

Of course, these days Cable & Wireless gets most attention for its expansive IP network rollout, reaching some 84 cities across the world with OC-192 connectivity.

But this IP-centric business focus isn’t yet profitable. Indeed, as a business unit, it lost some 216 million pounds (US$317M) in the last financial year.

Where does Cable & Wireless make its real money? Jamaica. Ascension Island. Panama. The Falkland Islands. Diego Garcia. And lots of other places that are a) small, b) poor and c) suffer the misfortune to be ex-British colonies.

Together, Cable & Wireless’ island monopolies are home to only a few million people with limited incomes. But Cable & Wireless certainly extracts its pound of flesh.

Indeed, Cable & Wireless made some 203 million pounds (US$298M) in pure profit from its “regional businesses” last year, along with another 71 million pounds (US$104M) in Australia and 282 million pounds (US$414M) from “discontinued operations,” mainly Hongkong Telecom.

For many years, Cable & Wireless made most of its profits from Hong Kong. And although the British finally handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, Hong Kong taxpayers were then forced to cough up billions to “compensate” Cable & Wireless for the early termination of the monopoly license granted by the British administration in the mid-1980s.

And what a monopoly it was. Cable & Wireless took advantage of Hong Kong’s small borders to charge full IDD rates for calls travelling as few as 15 miles to neighboring cities in China and the adjoining enclave of Macau, where the local telephone company was also owned by Cable & Wireless. At one point, Hongkong Telecom was returning almost half its sales in profits!

But while the Hong Kong cash cow has been consigned to history, the cash cow of a whole bunch of former British Empire island nations continues on. A quick perusal of the ITU’s list of international settlement charges shows that the most expensive in the world are almost always levied by a Cable & Wireless property on some island nation. What’s more, these countries are being left behind by Cable & Wireless’ monopoly rents and refusal to invest profits back into their infrastructure.

Just last month, five of them in the East Caribbean got together and said enough is enough. High phone charges and under-investment were leaving them marginalized from the world economy. So they forced Cable & Wireless to step aside and face liberalization. Cable & Wireless was petulant in negotiations, threatening to disrupt telephone service without an orderly transition. After it agreed to the liberalizations, it spitefully laid off hundreds of local workers.

What is most offensive about this odious company is the way it used the monopoly rents of small, poor island nations to subsidize its loss-making fiber networks in rich European and American countries. Its grand new IP network doesn’t extend out to these places — when it’s clear those economies would benefit from being connected to the world’s broadband network.

Off course, not all of the profit makes its way back into first-world IP investment. Some 138 million pounds (US$198M) of it was given back to Cable & Wireless’ British and American shareholders in dividends last year.

The East Caribbean actions of last month should empower other countries to end C&W’s monopoly deals. Good riddance to the world’s worst telephone company.

* Grahame Lynch is the global editorial director of Advanstar Telecom Group


  1. I have several points to make.

    1. We should print copies of this article and circulate it via email, hand it out on the street and mail them to Bahamians.We must remember Bahamians have selective memory and sometimes need to be reminded of the contradictions our politicians make.

    2. All psychologist agree that past behaviour is a very very good determinant of FUTURE BEHAVIOR. So for example, if you want to know if your man will beat you, see if he beat the woman before you. Likewise if you want to know about Cable and Wireless, what should you do, mmm. Bahamians are the only ones in the world who are so damn forgiving to criminals and will actually promote them and their businesses, so we continue to be VICTIMIZED. STOP IT!!

    3.If the government needs money so badly, please sell me some shares for $10 each share. Ill invest 500 and waive the management fee. I know a few Bahamains who will be willing to do this. And I do not mean the ones who are trying to buy every damn thing (in the words of our PM), NO JUST REGULAR STUPID POOR BLACK BAHAMIANS. YA KNOW THE ONES THAT WENT TO THE SAME SCHOOL WITH ZHAVARGO.

  2. @openyoureyes…are we saying that C&W is no longer the worst phone company?
    Are you saying that the things published in this article like:

    But while the Hong Kong cash cow has been consigned to history, the cash cow of a whole bunch of former British Empire island nations continues on. A quick perusal of the ITU’s list of international settlement charges shows that the most expensive in the world are almost always levied by a Cable & Wireless property on some island nation. What’s more, these countries are being left behind by Cable & Wireless’ monopoly rents and refusal to invest profits back into their infrastructure

    have now changed and that C&W is now a much better company and companies it operates are no longer left behind. Here is some current information…

    According to the 2009/2010 Cable & Wireless Annual Report:

    The Caribbean is the largest contributor (37%) of Cable & Wireless international Revenues

    The entire Caribbean Operations of 13 Countries generated Revenues of US$873 Million which was US$102 Million less that the 2008 earnings. BTC in 2009 generated $360.8 or 41% of the Total Revenue for the 13 Caribbean Countries.

    Please note the population of The Bahamas is 350,000 compared 3,833,822 for Cable & Wireless 13 markets in the Caribbean. The Bahamas population is less that 10% of the 13 markets in the Caribbean

    Cable & Wireless EBITDA dropped from US$337 Million in 2008 to US$270 Million in 2009. BTC’s EBITDA in 2009 was $103 Million or 38% of C&W Caribbean.

    Cable & Wireless in 2009 invested in Capital Works a total of US$114 Million for 13 Countries. BTC in 2009 invested $51.7 Million or 45% of C&W investments.

    BTC don’t need C&W….C&W need BTC 🙂

  3. Wow interesting article. Bahamians wake up one of these morning you will wake up and become a stranger in your own home land. When are we going to stop selling out our country for a fe bucks. Where are our moral and standard. what was the problem with BTC that the government have to sell. Wake up Bahamas, next we will be selling BEC .

  4. I believe most Bahamians would agree that we can liberalize the market and Privatize BTC without selling it to foreigners.

    The Bahamian People would like to keep what is already theirs and not give it to forigners at any price. SELL THE SHARES TO BAHAMIANS.

    I’m sure BTC and others who worked on this project over the last 10 years already have projections to 2015 for BTC.

    We have Great Minds here lets see the projections.
    Lets hold on to our Bahamian money making company.

  5. So what’s your point BP??? Firstly, what’s the date of this article???? I believe it was more than 10 years ago. From what I know, telecommunications has changed by leaps and bounds from 1997. Additionally, international agreements have been entered by governments of the Bahamas (PLP/FNM), which requires liberalization of government held corporations! BP, not sure why you are not raising the point how both parties had BTC up for sale! Remember in the same Tribune article, it was stated that the PLP was discussing with C&W the possibility of entering the market! As a Bahamian, I would truly appreciate reporting that is not one sided!

    • The date of the article is on the paper MARCH 8th, 1997. POINT ONE!

      IT PROVES HUBERT INGRAHAM’s word means nothing! He is a scatter brain!


  6. @BP

    Hol on! Step back! Did Sir Lynden Pindling, Prime Minister and Vincent Peet, Consumer Affairs Minister, enter into an agreement with Cable & Wireless to sell Batelco, prior to the 1992 elections??? If so (as stated in the Tribune report above) the PLP doesn’t have a leg to stand on and the remainder of their claims about empowering Bahamians should not be believed. This will be disheartening to many who espouse the view that our previous leader (Pindling) would never sell BTC to non-Bahamians.

    • Remember now who is making that CLAIM…HUBERT INGRAHAM! He made the same claim when he return in 2007 that Perry Christie was selling BTC, when nothing was NEVER ever signed! But ask yourself the question….WHO IS SELLING BTC TO CABLE AND WIRELESS? Yes, the man who is making these claims, HUBERT INGRAHAM AKA PAPA!


      • Ingraham did say Christie was selling BTC to Cable and Wireless. He never said Christie sold the company!!! Stop playing with the words now!! It’s incredible how persons would side with the PLP on this matter or any other matter. It’s all politics! One minute the PLP was in agreement to sell 49% of the shares in BTC and now since they have a belief that the Bahamian people don’t want BTC sold, which is not an accurate belief, all of a sudden that party is saying the company shouldn’t be sold???? They had a change of heart! Yeah, rite!!! They are trying to win seats in the House! One thing that is quite obvious, if this decision will cost the FNM victory at the polls, Mr. Ingraham is not worried about that! To me this proves that it is a decision he truly believes is good for the country! Unlike Christie who changes his mind like the wind!

  7. Did the PM not realize that this info was out there the public domain and would eventually surface? Why has the PLP remained silent, because it is obvious they knew about this? What is going on here between the PM and former PM that the Bahamian public does not know about? What does the foreign buyer of BTC; Cable & Wireless have to say about this serious revelation?

  8. It is insanely ridicous that RT. Hon Ingraham would of utter such statements, knowing that he IS NOT a man to his word. He should’ve known that this would have back fired on him…When I read the article my mind when back on a comment made by my collegue, indicated that Hubert was and still is a PLP, which can account for his behaviour…He certainly cares about the Bahamian people but he is acting in this relentless manner because he wants to the FNM OUT. He is a very inteligent man and clearly knows what he is doing.

  9. STATEMENT BY The Progressive Young Liberals

    Nassau, Bahamas – February 17, 2011 – The Progressive Young Liberals wishes to express its support for the Bahamas Telecommunications Company and confirm its disdain for any attempts to sell off important Bahamian assets to foreign entities.

    The PYL believes that BTC being sold to Cable and Wireless highlights the fact that there are no real initiatives to empower young Bahamians or champion entrepreneurship as a viable option for innovative Bahamians. The government’s decision to sell 51% of BTC shares implies that their model is to create a nation of workers only, as opposed to promoting wealth creation.

    As young people, this decision illustrates to us that only foreigners, the wealthy or privileged few can aspire for ownership in our country. This should not be the case in a 21st century Bahamas.

    The government’s implicit message is not one of hope for our generation but rather anguish and the decision to sell BTC is symptomatic of what ails our country.

    The PYL understands and appreciates that for every one dollar that stays in our country-ten additional dollars of economic activity is generated. In terms of this transaction, the millions of dollars that will potentially be repatriated to Lime’s head office, speaks to tens of millions of dollars being available to young Bahamians who wish to start up and sustain new businesses.

    This speaks to nation building, preserving and preparing our country for our generations and others to come.

    The PYL stands firmly against the sale of 51% shares of BTC.

  10. I’ve said it all along; this C&W matter goes deep and is very corrupt. The parties involved are Lyford Cay, Bay Street, Eastern Road and the financial services elite. Get behind the veil and you see the cesspool of ugly corruption; just sayin’.

    • You ain’t lie. They couldn’t stand the recession no more so they used their pressure to concoct this deadly plan that will benefit the few and harm the masses. Look how the AG is trying (and will, by the way) to get his law firm (let’s not pretend its former) to represent interested parties in the very transaction he is involved in. Yet people call for execution of criminals and are blind to this big big harm to the many. I’ll just keep sitting back and watching while ya’ll focus on the li’l tings. We need real investigative journalism.

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