June 15, 2005 — Although Vitelco's presentation time was limited at Tuesday's Public Service Commission meeting, David Sharp, company president, was asked to provide a statement explaining a three-week phone outage on the island of St. Croix. Information relating to the cause of outage, which lasted from the last week in May to the second week in June, was not received during that time by the PSC or other media outlets, stated a representative from the PSC's legal counsel, and many customers are still unsure as to the exact date of telephone service restoration.
Sharp responded by stating that Vitelco did issue several broadcasts on various radio stations, and were hoping to receive calls from residents regarding the status of their service at the time of the outage. "On one of the cables that went down," Sharp explained, "there were 2,700 pairs of wires damaged that equals about 2,000 customers not receiving service. With that many wires, it is impossible for us to know who has service and who doesn't." Sharp said. "When we broadcast over the radio, we were relying on residents to call in and tell us whether or not they had service so that we could know whose line to fix."
Sharp told Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville, a St. Croix resident who had not received a restoration of his service until last week, who serves as a non-voting member of the PSC, that a bird and the weather were the cause of the phone outage.
"In short," Sharp stated, "a bird flew into the transformer outside our facilities in St. Croix, and caused the shortage. The power entering the building was therefore incomplete, and our generators were not able to function."
Rain compounded the problem — as air pressure was lost and restored to a series of cables, water from rain outside was blown along the wires making the damage more extensive. Underground cables with paper insulation were also flooded, causing a short which resulted in a loss of service.
"Vitelco got on this as fast as we could, though," Sharp said, "and we've been working 24 hours a day in order to get the problem fixed. We're still not running at a 100 percent, and we're still relying on residents to call in and tell us whether their lines are working or not."
In matters relating a report from Vitelco on the financial viability of the company, legal counsel for the PSC stated that in letters received on June 7 and 13 from the Rural Telephone Finance Cooperative regarding the status of pending litigation, that status of the hearing taking place within the Virgin Islands remains the same. In addition, litigation involving Innovative Communications Corporation and its request to transfer jurisdiction of another suit in Virginia to the Virgin Islands was denied.
Vitelco also submitted yearly and quarterly performance reports to the PSC for review on Tuesday. Due to lack of time, commission members expressed a need to evaluate the reports more extensively, and will address any concerns with Sharp at a later date.
In another matter, the commission also ordered Vitelco to pay $65,000 dollars for an assessment conducted by PSC staff regarding the operation of the utilitys Lifeline servicesa standard household line which should enable customers to effectively dial emergency operations when needed. PSC members launched an investigation into this feature after numerous complaints were received about the poor quality of service on Lifeline phones.
Because the PSC doesn't have the money to pay for the assessments on its own, the utility is ordered to pay the PSC for assessments conducted on matters which need investigating; the authority to conduct these assessments rests solely with the PSC, as it is the body which governs the territory's public utilities.
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