Simone Martin-Sulgan

Simone Martin-Sulgan, FLOW’s T&T vice president

IN light of the economic hardships brought on by Covid-19, FLOW T&T has embarked on a campaign throughout the country to upgrade existing broadband customers, as the company is making strides in adjusting its model to accommodate pandemic times.

This was revealed by vice president Simone Martin-Sulgan during an interview with Express Business earlier this month.

FLOW T&T is part of the telecommunications giant C&W Communications (CWC), which operates in 19 territories in the region, offering residential and business services for Internet, telephone (fixed and mobile) and television.

Martin-Sulgan said the company understood that in the pandemic there would be need for increaseed broadband speed, especially with online schooling and work-from-home being the order of the day.

“The campaign was launched on October 1 and we will be going throughout the country and upgrading customers’ speed. FLOW is putting its money where its mouth is and is improving in areas that need to be boosted. We are fully aware that people are cutting back on their expenses, hence why the company has embarked on such initiative,” said Martin-Sulgan.

The telecommunications executive, who was appointed in May, said the pandemic had shown up the company’s shortcomings and it has taken steps to embrace the concept of virtual work for its employees and to make it easier for its customers as well.

“We know there have been areas where we have fallen short and with customers’ expectations. The proactive maintenance, plans and networks continue on a daily basis,” she said

Martin-Sulgan noted FLOW T&T has shifted focus to the retention of customers rather than a strong drive of sales and acquisition for the business model at this time.

“A lot of customers have also reached out and said it is difficult and they are unable to upkeep their plans. What we have since done in order to keep them connected is to set up a payment plan, which seems to be working out for them. The service centre is calling customers to enquire whether they can afford to pay their current package,” Martin-Sulgan said, adding that the company has experienced operating losses because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This year’s target did not go as planned, but we are hoping that by next year the outlook is more favourable. When you introduce measures that affect the way you do business, the plans are changed,” she said.

Despite this setback, the vice-president of FLOW T&T said the company has not laid off any of its staff, but has restructured its work model to include working from home and staff rotation.

“It’s 18 months on and some people have not had an income and businesses have been closing down and some are our customers. We have all seen the economic challenges and FLOW T&T is not immune to it.”

Market share

Asked what percentage of the cable and broadband market FLOW controls, Martin-Sulgan said while she could not divulge the percentage in the public domain, she noted that the company has not lost market share despite the big players on the field such as Digicel and Green Dot. She said the five month lockdown caused the domestic telecommunications market to contract as many would have lost their jobs during the period.

With regard to the sale of the 49 per cent of TSTT shares, she said CWC continues to be committed to honouring the terms of the agreement to divest its 49 per cent shareholdings in TSTT.

“We have acted in good faith and taken all reasonable measures within our control to divest the shares. With the Government’s majority 51 per cent shareholding in TSTT, in the best interest of all the parties concerned we continue to be open to engaging the Government in search of a solution that preserves the current value of the shares, and secures the future strategic vision of TSTT as a key player in the information and communication sector.”

Cable & Wireless Communications Ltd operating as C&W Communications is a telecommunications company which has operations in the Caribbean and Central America. It is owned by Liberty Latin American and is headquartered in Denver, Colorado.

CWC gave a commitment to sell its 49 per cent stake in TSTT when it acquired Columbus’ FLOW operations in March 2015. Following the merger of CWC and FLOW, the resulting entity was acquired by Liberty Global in May 2016. Liberty Global is a multinational communications giant that had revenues of US$12 billion in 2020.

On the issue of the fixed portability of numbers–which is an ongoing battle between FLOW and TSTT–Martin-Sulgan lamented that even though the company was victorious in the High Court ruling in August, the matter still has not been rectified.

“This is unacceptable from where we stand. We really hope that the day comes soon that TSTT will actually allow customers to make that choice, because at the end of the day, everybody wins. When there’s increased competition, everyone benefits.”

Working in Covid

Martin-Sulgan explained the company was mindful of the risk to workers, especially those who are on the frontline, and has since implemented a mechanism called the 4Rs to assist them.

“The first R is to recognise the risk that the workers are faced with every day. It is an online programme where we highlight the good job that they do and there are some financial benefits for them to keep morale up. The second R is rotating to avoid burnout.

“The third R is about rest. It is flexible and does not limit staff to 15 or 20 days and the final R is recharge. It is imperative that you do self-care, whatever it looks like.”

She outlined that the telecom-munications company has also started a Covid-19 fund to assist its staff members who have fallen into financial difficulties because of the pandemic.

On the contentious topic of vaccination in the workplace, Martin-Sulgan said 60 per cent of the company’s workforce has been vaccinated and education on the vaccines is ongoing.

The shortage of US currency continues to be an ongoing challenge for several business and the FLOW vice president said in some instances the company’s vendors will accept payment in TT dollars and where it falls short its international partners assist.

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