Sometimes, a company might find it has to live up to its name.
Columbus Communications Trinidad, operating under its ubiquitous brand "Flow", finds itself living its name.
For the past seven years, the Barbados-based Columbus Communications Incorporated, Flow's parent company, has created a quasi-monopolistic telecoms empire throughout the Caribbean.
"The strategy when we came to Trinidad (and other Caribbean countries) is we bought companies and built on their presence," Flow's CEO John Reid told the Business Express in an interview at the company's Victoria Square, Port of Spain office last Monday.
In 2005, the company entered the local market after it completed the acquisition of Trinidad and Tobago Transcable Company Ltd (CCTT), the largest cable television provider in the country.
If stars are all aligned in 2013, Reid added, the company hopes to expand its services to Tobago. "There was no capacity there before, but soon there will be a broadband network to Tobago and we hope to be party to that," he said.
To residential customers, the company has a tripartite offering summarised in its slogan, "Watch. Talk. Click." Basic cable TV package rates start from around $225- $240 per month. Landline services range from $99 - $149. Broadband Internet rates range from $199 - $799, depending on download/upload speeds.
Despite competition from TSTT's Blink entertainment and DirecTV, Flow still maintains its market predominance in the country.
"Our customer base is higher than it was last year; which was higher than the year before that. So cable TV continues to grow, although not at the level it was five years ago," Reid said.
Pricing points are also growing, although Flow maintains it tries its best to absorb as much extra cost pressures as possible, rather than pass them on to the customer.
"Our cost base for programming goes up every year and we don't increase prices because we try to absorb as much as that as possible. We will have annual increases for a number of our channels every year (from the content provider); as a service provider we have to try to manage that increase with what our customers can handle and absorb as much as we can," Reid says.
He said as the cost continues to grow—at a rate that could be considered unsustainable—the company is caught in a situation where it cannot absorb all the costs, and will inevitably have to pass that on to customers.
"At the same time we understand that when economic conditions start to deteriorate people are more sensitive to price increases. It's a delicate balance but we never pass on 100 per cent of the price increase to our customers," Reid said, adding the company had met with the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) to discuss pricing options in light of steep cost increases.
Flow also offers broadband services—and that market is the fastest growing of any of the company's services.
"(Our competitor) does not offer the network, the packages or prices that we do, so we consider ourselves, as a service provider, as having a competitive advantage.
We've also been successful in our telephone (landline) service. We've had a high turnover rate in that (at the expense of the incumbent)," he added.
Since coming to the Caribbean in the mid-2000s, Columbus has invested over US$1 billion in the region over the last seven years, including a sub-sea fibre optic network that touches 23 countries throughout the region, as well as a terrestrial network.
"Our network is as robust as about 98 per cent of the networks in the US," he said.
There are plans to expand this network as well, as the company intends to spend US$160 million in the region, including US$40 million in Trinidad.
Reid says the company is continually upgrading its services, including a recent launch of 20 new HD channels.
"We will continue to invest and buy assets. Columbus is very much in growth mode, so we see our company's footprint expanding both on consumer and business side," he said.
In Trinidad, the company has Wi-Fi (wireless internet coverage) spots covering 75 per cent of the country, and the intention is to develop mobile applications to allow customers to utilise this linking Flow's consumer products, traditionally accessed only at home, and making it a more on-the-go experience.
"We want to lead in eventually with apps that will link home services to mobile smart phones (through android or apple) so you can watch TV on the go. We're still trying to nail down the pricing points but some of these will be value added services we'll give our customers- it can either be free or a nominal fee, but nothing to dissuade customers," Reid says.
The one thing however that Flow doesn't plan to expand into is the mobile market.