Telecom 101- Theo Heyliger: “TelEm is a slow technological company”

POSTED: 06/18/14 11:08 PM

St. Maarten – “TelEm is one of the most cautious companies we have. It is more reactive than pro-active,” UP-leader Theo Heyliger said yesterday afternoon in a meeting of Parliament about the possible merger of telecom providers TelEm and UTS.

Heyliger put his finger on several weak points in rapid succession, when he reacted in the second round to the answers Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams had presented to answers MPs submitted on June 12. “We have a TelEm company in the Dominican Republic since 2008 or 2009, yet you cannot tell me what has been done in that company. What is the idea of being there?”

Heyliger furthermore addressed the fact that the company is now almost five years without a Chief Operating Officer, after the departure of interim manager Pieter Drenth in the fall of 2009. “If you try to position yourself you need leadership in a company,” Heyliger said. “I would have expected at least an indicative investment and business plan for the next five years or more. The discussions about the merger go back to 2009 as well – again, five years. They say that they have to act fast, but this is a slow technological company.”

Probing deeper into TelEm’s re-active approach, Heyliger said that he expects the company to lobby Parliament and to present ideas for legislation it needs to pass to keep the company viable. “I am looking for a TelEm that is more pro-active,” the UP-leader said. “It has to become more aggressive to become a stronger company. Instead, you are constantly fighting about Chippie and TelCell and you forget the rest. Why don’t you offer different products, like a bundle of combined services?”

Heyliger’s compact address was the most coherent of what Members of Parliament brought forth, after Prime Minister Wescot-Williams had answered the 101 questions parliamentarians had posed. Though the government provided all answers in writing last week Thursday, MPs insisted on Friday that they needed more time to go through the stack of 30 pages. Therefore, the meeting was adjourned until yesterday.

Wescot-Williams first sought clarity on what Parliament expected: a verbal presentation of the written answers or a second round with questions about the answers she had provided. It turned out that the Parliament preferred beginning with a verbal presentation.

The answers reveal that TelEm will invest around $20 million in the next ten years to bring fiber optic cable to every house on St. Maarten and that it is seeking a $15 million loan for this project.

Wescot-Williams said that TelEm has significantly improved its service during the past three years and that interference from external providers is the main cause of dropped calls. “TelEm works on upgrading its mobile network. Significant improvements can be expected in the next couple of months.” Later the PM added that the regulator (Bureau Telecommunication and Post) ought to be more pro-active monitoring the spectrum on which the interference occurs.

TelEm advertises all of its vacancies first internally and it manages to fill most positions this way. An exception is the position of marketing and sales manager. For that job no suitable internal candidate surfaced and an attempt to find a local candidate in the Netherlands via the Student Support Service-S4 yielded no results either. Later in the meeting it appeared that the billing department is managed by “a Romanian” who was not identified by name.

The marketing and sales manager has an annual revenue target of 100 million guilders (almost $56 million), Wescot-Williams said.

She furthermore said that there are three mobile operators on the Dutch side and that one company has a telecom concession but not a business license. “French side companies are operating illegally on the Dutch side,” the prime minister added.

In its partnership with utilities company Gebe, TelEm works on two projects already – fiber to the home and smart metering.

The status of the negotiations with UTS about a possible merger is non-binding, Wescot-Williams said.

Independent MP Frans Richardson did not have enough with the ten minutes available to him in the second round and he announced a request for a Central Committee meeting with the same agenda. He did ask whether it is correct that TelEm has outsourced its helpdesk to IGS (Industrial Global Services) in Curacao and what set UTS apart from the other potential merger-candidates.

Prime Minister Wescot-Williams will react to the questions posed yesterday in a meeting scheduled for next Monday at 2 p.m.


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