May 4, 2002 – The Public Services Commission on Friday assessed Innovative Telephone a total of $225,000 for two investigations of the company, formerly known as Vitelco.
It ordered Innovative to pay $213,000 for its own routine rate investigation plus $12,000 as part of its share for the PSC's investigation into a petition from Wireless World for the commission to approve an interconnection agreement with the telephone company. Innovative already had paid the commission $100,000 for that investigation.
Last September, after conducting the interconnect investigation, the PSC voted to deny the request by Wireless World, which would have allowed it to provide local phone service and end the monopoly held by Innovative. Wireless World then asked the commission to reconsider its petition, and the PSC declined.
Wireless World now is challenging that decision in Territorial Court, along with the assessment of $100,000 it got from the PSC for the costs of the investigation. No court date has been announced for either case.
The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened up local telecommunications markets to competition. The act requires existing carriers, upon "reasonable request," to interconnect directly with the facilities and equipment of other carriers.
Wireless World sought to enter the V.I. market last summer; in order to do so, it needed an interconnection agreement with Innovative. Because the two firms couldn't work out an agreement, the PSC appointed attorney Frederick Watts to oversee arbitration.
Samuel Ebbesen, president of Innovative Telephone, objected strenuously Friday to the assessment in the Wireless World case, stating that Innovative has a cash flow problem. Darryl Dodson, Wireless World attorney, declared that Innovative doesn't want the competition, to which Ebbesen replied that Innovative welcomes competition, but not "unhealthy competition."
The rate investigation stems from a long battle waged by Sen Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg to look into Vitelco's rates and hiring practices. The Senate finally mandated the investigation last year via a law calling for the PSC to investigate all public utilities every two years. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed that bill into law after having vetoed an earlier one calling for an investigation only of Innovative.
PSC member Luther Renee asked Ebbesen on Friday if Innovative would consider holding town meetings such as the Water and Power Authority has done. "I would like to see ICC do as WAPA did — I find them excellent," Renee said. Ebbesen didn't reply to the request, but he did tell members they were welcome to look at a number of statutes he cited in explaining Innovative's positions on rate issues. There was no indication of when the Innovative rate investigation is expected to be completed.
Friday marked the first time in years that the PSC has met on St. Croix. The commission chair, Desmond Maynard, said he couldn't remember how many years but said, "We want to let St. Croix know the PSC exists and give residents the opportunity to register complaints. We don't want St. Croix to think we are a distant entity."
There is a PSC office on St. Croix at the Sunny Isle Shopping Center. Its telephone is 778-6010. For the St. Thomas-St. John district, the office is in Barbel Plaza and the number is 776-1291.
Friday's meeting began an hour past its scheduled 9 a.m. start and moved sometimes at a snail's pace, as one issue after another was postponed because the commission members had not received pertinent data in time to consider action on it. Maynard told Keithley Joseph, PSC executive director, to work on getting such materials to the commission members in a timely fashion.
In other matters, the commission:
– Postponed a status report on a ferry-rate investigation because Campbell Malone, certified public accountant, was not present and has not submitted information he was asked to research. At the request of hearing examiner Stylish Willis, the board voted to dismiss Malone.
– Heard a report by Adrian LaBennett, chief executive of St. Croix Cable TV and St. Thomas-St. John Cable TV, on the differences in rates between the two cable companies, both owned by Innovative Communication Corp. LaBennett said the rates were based on the number of channels and on basic-tier program expenses. A full report was postponed because the material had not been received in time for commission members to review it.
– Postponed until next Friday a decision on whether St. Croix Alumina should be treated as a public utility. Company attorney George H.T. Dudley said he brought the matter before the board because the company is in negotiations to be purchased. "It is important to know whether St. Croix Alumina would be treated as a public utility under the jurisdiction of the PSC," Dudley said. His reason for bringing the matter before the board, he said, is that in the past the company has sold water to Hovensa.
All seven voting members of the commission attended the meeting: Jerris Browne, Verne David, Valencio Jackson, Maynard, Renee Alric Simmonds and Alecia Wells. The two non-voting members, Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole and Emmett Hansen II, also were present.
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