In February of 2011, four months after V.I. Supreme Court quashed bankrupt former Innovative owner Jeffry Prosser's appeal and allowed Prosser's former creditors to take ownership, the Innovative Companies’ new management submitted a $78 million, four-year plan to the V.I. Public Services Commission for a new phone, Internet and cable TV network, with broader bandwidth and more reliable service.
Plans called for replacing the telephone and cable lines with a single, integrated network with all products mounted on a fiber optic network with coaxial cable running the last few yards to individual consumers, an approach the company says is well proven and extensively used throughout the United States.
Since then, residents of both districts have seen many Innovative trucks and trenching machines, running cable underground and on poles. At first, much of that work was to repair the existing network. But the new fiber-optic network has been going in, and as of May, 7,000 homes in Frederiksted, St. Croix, and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, were being served by the new hybrid fiber-optic/coaxial cable network, and work on the new system began to accelerate.
In the short run, that may mean a little inconvenience for customers, as every customer will need a crew coming to the home to install the new system, even if they already have Innovative service, according to Jennifer Matarangas-King, Innovative's vice president for public relations.
"At the end of the day, customers will get better service, with crystal clear telephone service and truly high-speed Internet service," Matarangas-King said Tuesday. "For example, the average customer now gets 512 Kb service, while on the new network the average customer will get 1.5 Mb at no additional cost," she said.
As of August, the new network was about 25 percent complete and progressing rapidly, she said.
"There has been obvious work on the trenching, but behind the scenes there has also been a lot going on to support the changes. In the last year and a half, we have had over 16,000 hours of employee training, on the new billing system, in customer service," Matarangas-King said.
All of Innovative's customer service representatives have now taken a customer service course through the University of the Virgin Islands that is certified by the American Management Association, she said.
The changes have been hectic, and at times nearly half of Innovative's staff were undergoing training, she said. This caused some temporary short-staffing even as the company worked to improve the quality of its workforce, she said.
"It has been very hectic. But also exciting," Matarangas-King said. "Our plant was neglected for a number of years and we did not have the luxury of waiting. The sooner we can get this done, the better off the Virgin Islands will be."
In the coming months, new 4G cellular and data services will be added, she said.
The next big change will be to billing, which will be consolidated with combined invoices so customers can pay one bill for their cable, Internet and telephone service.
There is some online bill paying now, but as the improvements are put in place, there will be more automation and more transactions performed online at their website, www.innovativevi.net, instead of in person at Innovative's offices, she said.
"Some customers do like that face-to-face interaction, and that will still be there. But others want to take care of things on their own, online at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, without calling us. So we are trying to provide our customers with those options," Matarangas-King said, noting that you can even report an outage online.
There may be some more glitches and hiccups as the changes are all put in place, but when it is all over, the quality and variety of services – and the quality of customer service – offered by Innovative should be on par with anywhere in the country, she said.
Meanwhile a lot of information about the changes is being included with customers' bills.
"We have lots of bill stuffers and there is good information in there on promotions, changes in policy and changes to service," Matarangas-King said.