Home News Local news PSC Slates Feb. Vote on Centennial Grant Status

PSC Slates Feb. Vote on Centennial Grant Status

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Jan. 24, 2007 — After almost two years of delay, the Public Services Commission on Thursday met on St. Croix and tentatively scheduled a vote for Feb. 22 on whether to grant Centennial Wireless status to receive federal Universal Service Fund (USF) grants.
The USF is a Federal Communications Commission-controlled program designed to bring better telecommunications services to rural and insular areas. Funds must be spent on phone service in the territory. Vitelco receives USF funds, but no wireless cellphone carriers in the territory do. Many stateside jurisdictions, though not all, give cellphone companies status to receive USF funds.
For the money to flow to the islands, Centennial would need to be certified by the commission as a competitive Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC). If Centennial gets such status, they become eligible to receive about $1.3 million annually. Since other ETC recipients of USF funds would be unaffected, it would increase the total amount of money available to improve telecommunications infrastructure.
Centennial first applied to the PSC for ETC status in 2005. In December of 2006 the PSC scheduled a vote on the matter, but has delayed the vote several times since.
In November 2007, the PSC presented Centennial with a report concluding the PSC did not have jurisdiction in the matter. Centennial's attorneys disagreed. The report and its recommendations were prepared by PSC consultants Greg Mann and Jeffrey Moorhead, who were not at the meeting to explain their conclusions. At that time, the PSC decided to delay a vote for two more weeks. A week later, the Legislature passed an amendment to the law clarifying that the PSC does have authority to grant ETC status to cellphone service providers.
The amendment, sponsored by Sens. James Weber III and Basil Ottley Jr., was attached to an unrelated bill and approved Dec. 5. It specifically empowers the PSC to grant ETC status to cell-phone service providers and gives it power to exercise continuing oversight over wireless phone service providers who have requested ETC status. It gives the PSC authority to grant and withdraw ETC status based on a company's quality of service, and to ensure that companies receiving these funds do in fact only spend them locally and only on phone-service infrastructure. There was concern at the time that the amount of USF funds available might drop precipitously for applications filed after Dec. 31.
"The PSC thought only the FCC could do this," Weber told the Source at the time. "We wanted to make it really clear they have the authority. … As the funds must be spent in the territory, it is in everyone's interest to make this happen."
The amendment also directs the PSC to act quickly on all such applications and clarifies that no formal hearing is necessary before granting the application.
PSC Attorney Tanisha Bailey Roka said the PSC would now hold a series of hearings on the matter. By Jan. 29, the PSC and its consultants will discuss and review the issues. By or on Feb. 7, they will hold a hearing for public questions and comment. By Feb. 14, they will have a hearing with Centennial on the petition, and on Feb. 22 will hold a meeting for a final vote on the matter.
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