Innovative Communications has launched a four-year, multimillion-dollar upgrade to its system that will give Virgin Islanders the best telecommunication system in the Caribbean, on par with any in the U.S., the company’s CEO told the St. Croix Rotary Club Thursday.
Seth Davis, who became chief executive officer of the company that acquired Innovative during bankruptcy proceedings last year, told the Rotarians Innovative is pursuing a two-pronged approach to building the new system—one side technical, the other service oriented. The plan as outlined was presented in February to the V.I. Public Services Commission. That came on the heels of the new management taking over the company.
"It’s been a busy couple of months, and this is only the start," Davis said.
The improvements will costs at least $75 million, and in his presentation to the PSC last month, Davis gave an estimate of $78 million.
The key to the technical effort, Davis said Wednesday, is replacing the two existing, antiquated sets of lines that run across the territory – copper wires that deliver telephone service and DSL Internet service, and coaxial cable for television. Over the next four years the company will replace them with a single, hybrid fiber optic line that carries all the signals the current two wires do, and much more.
The new wire, known as HFC for hybrid fiber-optic coaxial, will allow Innovative to offer a host of new services to its customers.
The increased bandwidth will give television customers the chance to add wide variety of choices, including enhanced pay per view, digital video recording, interactivity and all the latest bells and whistles being introduced in the world of video production. It will even have the capacity to support 3-D television, when and if it becomes widespread, Davis said.
Internet services will move far beyond the current DSL offering, according to Davis, with high-speed service that will far surpass the current DSL speeds.
Telephone customers also can expect to be tempted by a whole range of new services, he said. But he recognizes that more and more people are abandoning landlines and telephones wired to the wall, replacing them with cell phones. So while Innovative is planning a series of new packages to make landlines more attractive, they have also improved the infrastructure for their own cell service. According to Davis, Innovative now offers the best coverage of the territory and rates and packages that he said are competitive with anyone’s.
But all of that it only part of the story, he said. Throughout the company there is a new emphasis on service, with employees training in computers and other facets of the new system.
The company’s call centers on St. Thomas and St. Croix are being electronically merged into a virtual call center, where calls can be handled by trained personnel regardless of where it comes from.
The new enterprise operating system will include enhanced trouble resolution resulting in faster response to network and customer issue resolution. By using a new billing and financial accounting system, Innovative will provide customers with the ability to receive combined invoices for all Innovative services.
The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) has owned the local Vitelco telephone company and two Innovative cable television companies through its subsidiary Caribbean Asset Holdings (CAH) since October 2010.
The new systems and equipment will not affect rates that customers pay for basic phone and television service, Davis said. It is all the new options and services waiting in the wings that will add value – and thus add cost – to a consumer’s bill.
Davis said the company has not yet worked out the schedule for replacing the existing lines, but that will begin soon.