May 20, 2004 – Members of the Public Services Commission were summoned to defend their customer complaint procedures before a Senate Committee Wednesday. Valencio Jackson, PSC chairman, answered that he was not happy either with the service of the telephone company, but his commission had little power to do anything about it.
Sen. Luther F. Renee, chairman of the Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee, wrote a letter May 12 to the PSC and the Department of Consumer Protection. He called for "information about the complaint procedures and processes" of the PSC and a "written evaluation of the effectiveness of the process." The PSC monitors utilities and communication companies.
Setting the tone at the meeting, Renee opened with, "The PSC is responsible for the quality of service to the public, and the PSC does nothing." Renee asked what the agency could do to be effective and if the PSC had the resources to carryout its mandate.
PSC officials insisted they did not have the authority to require the telephone company to show the commission consumer complaints and requests for service. Jackson said his commission can only request financial information — not consumer requests and complaints. "We push them to report," he stated.
Although Jackson stated he is not satisfied with services provided to the consumer from the telephone company, he insisted that all complaints directed to the PSC are handled in an expeditious manner. But, he added, the customers who do not go to the PSC may spend "months waiting for installation and repairs."
The answer, Jackson said is for more consumers to call the PSC when adequate services are not provided. Sandra Setorie, PSC vice-president, said the customers who call the PSC office are not "representative of the amount of problems" the telephone company has. "They call us as a last resort," she said.
But the PSC wants stricter control on the communications company. "Tie the performance of the company to the amount of money it receives," said Jackson. "We have drafted the changes to make this possible," he said.
Setorie added, "Performance standards would allow us to monitor the company more adequately." There is presently a proposal in the Senate to move from rate-based regulatory methodology to a ''price cap" methodology, which some say will insure better customer service.
Sen. Louis Hill asked PSC officials why they denied high-speed data lines or DS3 capabilities to Choice Communications. "We must have this feature in the territory to remain competitive," Hill said. Hill indicated that Innovative uses DS3 for inter office communication and that EDC companies as well as UVI and other businesses need this technology.
"We would like to give the whole community DS3 access, but they did not prove this case," stated Jackson. Jackson said if UVI or EDC companies came forward and testified it would have made a difference on the outcome. He said that the PSC would conduct surveys to support the need for DS3 service in the territory.
Sen. Roosevelt David asked Jackson how did the Water and Power Authority receive four increases in 13 months. Jackson said the increases were due to the levelized energy adjustment clause, LEAC surcharge, which is based on the price WAPA pays for fuel. "What we did was prudent and right," Jackson said of the increase.
The PSC operates on a budget of $175,000 per year, but Jackson said it needs $1 million to operate effectively. Jackson said mathematicians, engineers and CPA's should be added to the seven-member commission. Jackson suggested that the members be given full-time status with a salary of $65,000 to $85,000. Commissioners are presently part time.
The meeting, which began at 6 p.m., was held in the Legislative Conference Room in St. Croix. Present at the meeting were Renee, vice-chair, Sens. Douglas Canton, Roosevelt David, and Almando Liburd.
Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Emmett Hansen II and Celestino White were excused. Non-committee Sens. Hill and Usie R Richards were also present.
The meeting was recessed until May 27 when the same issues will be discussed in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall in St. Thomas.
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