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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, December 10, 2023


Rumors that the VIP FreeNet is dead are greatly exaggerated, according to founder Peter de Blanc, whose company, COBEX, provides the Internet connection, system administration and maintenance.
"The FreeNet modem lines were shut off for about five days, due to a large Vitelco bill outstanding," which in turn was due to FreeNet user contributions not keeping pace with phone line costs, de Blanc said Sunday.
As the bill mounted, the number of V.I. Telephone Corp. lines had been cut from 13 to 11, and then down to five, he said.
With the total cut-off of service, the "resultant media exposure and the fact that users were suddenly aware what the lack of service meant to them caused a flurry of contributions —- about $500 in a few days," de Blanc said.
COBEX contributed $2,000 to make up the shortfall and paid Vitelco, "and the service is back to normal, albeit with fewer lines," he said.
During the down time, he said, "users with Internet access could telnet to virgin.usvi.net or vip.vi to access their mail."
Many FreeNet users are high school students who use the service for e-mail, according to de Blanc. "The schools may have some Internet access but do not provide a post office server," he said.
The FreeNet has been, is and will continue to be available to students to get their basic Internet e-mail and for other services "at a price they can afford -— free," he said.
FreeNet policy is to allow V.I. residents full services free, with a voluntary contribution of $25 per year recommended. Off-island users must pay $25 a year for an account.
John Ackley, director of information technology at the University of the Virgin Islands, says he was glad to get the news, because loss of FreeNet "would have been a loss to the community."
He pledged to check out the prospects of a UVI contribution, if not in cash, then in services computer science students might donate "to answer help calls and do some routine system administration."
"Supporting the FreeNet on behalf of our students who cannot afford unlimited access," Ackley said, "solves one of our potential problems and gives a regular month-in, month-out support to the FreeNet."
Meantime, several businesses have come forward with offers to subsidize the switched T-1 lines from Vitelco and assist in equipment upgrades and acquisitions, de Blanc said.
The next project for the FreeNet "is full PPP access, with POP mail," he said, so that mailbox users can POP mail and deal with it off-line.

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