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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 13, 2024


May 14, 2002 – If you think about it, you'll realize that the most aptly named company in the Virgin Islands is Innovative Telephone.
This company is so innovative at finding sources of money to divert in its direction that it fully deserves the accolade we hereby bestow upon it. Jeffrey Prosser, its owner, must be bursting with pride up there in Florida where he now lives.
Prosser, we can report, was not seen at last weekend's Bacchanal 2002, the annual gathering of Virgin Islanders who now live in the Sunshine State or journey there for the occasion. Maybe he was holed up in his Gold Coast mansion, thinking of more innovative ways to use his telephone company to raise more money for his Virgin Islands financial empire.
A year ago, the Source disclosed that Prosser had used Innovative Telephone to borrow an awesome $600 million from a Washington not-for-profit bank that makes low-cost loans to public utilities in rural areas. (See "Does Prosser have money problems?") That was the first we knew we lived in a rural area.
Our question is what did Prosser's telephone company use the $600 million for? To improve telephone service in the Virgin Islands? Think about it — $600 million to improve telephone service here. Come on.
Just two weeks ago, the Source also revealed the extent of an annual subsidy Innovative receives through the Federal Communications Commission to make phone service available to customers in rural areas. It's a whopping $25 million a year, and that's a subsidy, not a loan. (See "Innovative Telephone heavily subsidized.) Virgin Islands readers, that's you: customers in rural areas.
The subsidy to Innovative Telephone is blessed by our local Public Services Commission. And Innovative vigorously defends the subsidy, claiming that without it our phone bills — get this — would double.
Actually, the subsidy reminds us of what "Fungi" used to shout in those television commercials, "When you play the V.I. Lottery, everybody wins!"
Innovative wins $25 million a year.
The PSC wins. It can claim that it's holding down telephone rates.
And, yes, the public also wins. Were it not for the subsidy, our phone bills would increase. But not double, despite Innovative's claim. If the FCC subsidy were to disappear and Innovative tried to double its rates, there would be public protests of hurricane proportions. Innovative telephone officials might have to flee to the mainland. Maybe to Florida. Would Prosser put them up?
Innovative Telephone is one of the companies operating under the leadership of Innovative Communications Corp. They're all owned by Prosser, and they rarely talk to the media or the public.
We've sometimes wondered if Prosser ate Mars candy bars as a kid. Mars was the most private company in American corporate history. Operating out of a headquarters near Washington, D.C., Mars never said anything to anyone at any time.
Anyway, Innovative Communications late last week broke its corporate silence by releasing to the press a letter sent to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
The three-page letter was a mixture of whiny self pity, public scolding of the governor and his government, and a plethora of grammatical lapses usually not associated with corporations at the top of their game.
About the grammatical errors, we will say only that they must have produced grimaces among the copyeditors of The Virgin Islands Daily News, one of the companies that reports to ICC.
The letter asked Turnbull to relieve Innovative Telephone of the responsibility for collecting the $1-a-month surcharge for emergency services from telephone subscribers.
"This company has been subjected to attacks, misrepresentations and outright lies regarding the role we play as merely a conduit to collect these monies for the government," wrote Holland L. Redfield II, ICC's vice president for corporate affairs.
"Let me add that this is the very environment that leads to the perception that government is anti-business," Redfield, a former senator, admonished Turnbull.
Redfield implies that Turnbull's government isn't being nice to Innovative. Not true. Turnbull's PSC had to be ordered by the Legislature to undertake an investigation of Innovative Telephone's rate structure. Now, reluctantly, slowly, the members of our Public Services Commission are under way with the investigation.
If they want to perform a real public service, they should demand to know what Innovative Telephone did with the $600 million in loans.
And then tell all of us.

Editor's note: Frank J. Jordan is a radio commentator in the Virgin Islands and a former UVI journalism professor.
We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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