Controlling Share Of Telecom Cook Islands Sold To Samoan Company

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Teleraro, a subsidiary of Bluesky Group, completes purchase from Spark

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Feb. 24, 2015) – Going, going gone – In a $23 million [US$17.2 milion] deal Spark New Zealand has sold its 60 per cent interest in Telecom Cook Islands to a Samoan-based telecommunications company after almost a year of negotiations.

On Sunday Spark New Zealand announced it had concluded the sale to Teleraro Limited, a subsidiary of Samoan company Bluesky Group.

The sale has become effective immediately and Spark’s interests in TCI have already been transferred to Teleraro.

As it was a share sale, all infrastructure remains with TCI.

Asked why Teleraro had been chosen over a local contender such as Orama Limited, run by William Framhein, a spokesman for Spark did not want to comment.

Bluesky Group CEO Adolfo Montenegro visited Rarotonga yesterday to meet with the Telecom Cook Islands team.

Montenegro said his company looks forward to retaining the legacy of TCI.

"Our vision is to add to its services and make the lives of our customers easier," he said.

"We work in a challenging environment, but our top priority is to keep the Pacific connected."

Bluesky Samoa is the leading operator in Samoa and American Samoa, offering a mobile network, fixed line and internet services.

The company also offers a cable network service called Moana Television, which Montenegro hopes can also be rolled out in the Cook Islands.

TCI branding, services and plans in the Cook Islands will remain the same until the integration of TCI, Bluesky and Teleraro is completed.

So there will be no cheaper telecommunications plans for consumers in the near future, but Montenegro says strengthening Teleraro’s connection between New Zealand and the Cook Islands will be a priority.

The company will also look at branding and appointing a chief executive.

"We want to eliminate the uncertainty over leadership, so appointing a new leader will be a top priority."

In terms of staffing Montenegro says he does not see the need to employ any staff from overseas at this stage.

BlueSky has also opened up 15 per cent of Teleraro to be bought by local investors, while 10 per cent has been put aside for TCI staff.

Although the Cook Islands Government retains 40 per cent interest in TCI, Montenegro says talk about deregulation of the telecommunications industry in some Pacific countries is ‘concerning’.

"It is certainly a hot topic in the Pacific. We do not want a foreign company to come in and have a virtual monopoly on the market without government control."

However, Montenegro says he has personally been interested in investing in the Cook Islands since 2012, and is excited about the partnership.

"Our initial focus was to connect Samoan communities, but now we realise that our culture expands and we share the Polynesia way of life and can grow together."

Meanwhile, Minister of Telecommunications Mark Brown says he is glad to see that the sale has finally been resolved.

"I am very happy that staff have been given the opportunity to own a stake in the company they work for. The Government is also heartened to see that there will be opportunity for local ownership."

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