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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, April 18, 2024


With today's advanced information super highways, accessing up-to-the-minute material is often just a matter of "surfing the Net." But for many Virgin Islanders, the challenge is first to get on-line.
The problem, say two of the island’s three Internet service providers: They need more lines from the V.I. Telephone Corp.
Most customers access the Internet by signing up with an Internet service provider, known as an ISP, which uses phone lines to dial into the Net. In St. Thomas this has come to mean one busy signal after another, a recipe for frustration.
"What I find is that during the day or the evening hours — forget it," said Dr. Craig Friedenberg. He has two dial-up accounts, one with VIAccess and another with AT&T, and says his recent experience has been the same with both.
How does he cope with the constant busy signals?
"I don't like to get frustrated so if that is when it's clogged-up, then I'll go on later," he said.
But things weren't always this bad, Friedenberg said, adding the situation has deteriorated since Hurricane Georges.
Elise Leval also tries to get on-line at hours when she feels there is less traffic.
"What I do is try during the night because I don't have the patience to continue trying," the Cobex user said. Monique Purguy has found a way to entertain herself while she tries to get connected: " I play Solitaire on the computer because you get a busy signal and hear that man from Vitelco saying, 'The line is busy, please hang up'," she mimicked.
Purguy, also a Cobex customer, said it takes her from 20 to 30 minutes to get connected.
In order to allow customers to access the Internet, local ISPs must first dial a Vitelco number, which they then route to an 800 number. National ISPs, such as America On Line, connect users directly but that means incurring a long-distance charge for the connection, said Katrina White-Comissiong, manager of public relations at Vitelco.
This routing of high volumes of traffic through Vitelco’s 800-number circuits is what caused the recent breakdowns in service, she said.
But how much of the problem lies with the local ISPs and how much with the V.I. Telephone Corp.?
Gordon Ackley, owner and president of Ackley Communications and VIAccess, said the problem can be explained quite simply: " a lack of capacity on Vitelco’s part."
VIAccess once prided itself on the idea that users would never get a "busy" and even incorporated the boast in its logo, Ackley said. But since September, that has no longer been possible.
"At that level of quality service we never returned a busy signal to a customer," Ackley said. "That was until September, when Vitelco did not meet our demands."
Specifically, VIAccess ordered more than 700 T-1 circuits for 800 numbers, which would mean more lines for users, from Vitelco between September and October, Ackley said. They still haven’t been delivered.
VIAccess previously had a ratio of 10 to 12 users per dial-up line. Now that number has increased to 15, he said.
"We have the hardware. As soon as Vitelco installs the circuits we will be back to our 'no busies,' " he said.
Peter de Blanc of Caribbean On-line Business Exchange International, or COBEX, echoed Ackley's sentiments.
"Our only goal is to get more lines from Vitelco," de Blanc said, adding that this will only be possible once Vitelco installs new switches. Until then, several users must share lines and "unless they have a business connection, they are out of luck until someone gets off."
The dial-up situation is such because of economic reasons, de Blanc explained. It is simply not feasible for an ISP to maintain an individual local line from Vitelco for each customer and maintain low dial-up access rates, he said.
"Mostly what the reason is, is that they [customers] are not paying enough," de Blanc said.
Vitelco is in the midst of a $15 million modernization project, part of which will mean the installation of new switches by the end of March on St. Thomas, White-Comissiong said. She could not give a date for the installation of the St. Croix switch.
The new switches will replace one that has been in use since 1981.
"It has reached its limitations," White-Comissiong said. "It cannot meet the telecommunication needs of the Virgin Islands. Our lifestyles have changed. Installation of the new switches will provide us with more capacity."
Adding to the equipment problems is increased interest in the Internet. The number of people who want to go on-line is mushrooming.
Shelley de Chabert, strategic programming and public affairs director of AT&T of the Virgin Islands, said, "Normally when people complain about trying to get on-line, it is due to congestion."
But several factors contribute to congestion on the 800 number lines, she said.
For example, on certain days the number of visitors and crew members making long-distance calls and merchants trying to get credit card authorizations add to the congestion.
Although AT&T is not waiting on any lines from Vitelco, it is in the midst of an internal upgrade, after which a need for more Vitelco lines will be determined, de Chabert said.
Measures were taken in December to alleviate the problem somewhat.
Through a collaborative effort involving the Puerto Rico Telephone Co., Vitelco and AT&T, which served as the interstate carrier providing the needed facilities, the number of T-1 circuits was increased, but as the current situation indicates, more are needed.
Dial-up is one of the many ways to access the Internet through ISPs. There are more time-efficient ways, such as private connections, business lines and wireless service, and although costs vary, they are all higher than dial-up rates.

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