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Phone Company a No-Show at PSC Meeting

Dec. 12, 2004 – The Public Services Commission Friday had a full-day meeting from 10 a.m. until after 5 p.m., but Vitelco, also known as Innovative Telephone, which was listed on half the agenda items, did not show up.
The company was scheduled to give status reports on various lawsuits it is involved in as well as reports regarding costs of providing DC3 service and its availability to other carriers or resellers of Internet service.
The PSC, after receiving word of Innovative's last minute pullout, suspended discussion on those items.
This angered Arthur Joseph, who was present to testify. Joseph, a former employee and private citizen, has been a harsh critic of Innovative. Outside the meeting room he told reporters that Innovative had "lied" to the PSC. He said Innovative officials had told the PSC it would not pursue Economic Development Commission benefits in a hearing when it requested its recent rate hike. Innovative is now trying to renew its EDC benefits.
David Sharpe, president of Innovative, was asked about that at an EDC hearing last week. He replied that at the time of the rate request it was not the intention of Innovative to ask for EDC benefits, but the financial picture had changed since then. (See "Innovative Defends Position on Tax Benefits").
Joseph, who also testified at that EDC hearing, said Friday, "They just don't want to hear me again. That is why they didn't come." On the possibility of the next PSC hearing being held on St. Thomas instead of St. Croix, Joseph said, "I don't want to go to St. Thomas, but I will go to St. Thomas."
The commission was also to hear testimony on the legal battle Innovative is having with Rural Telephone Finance Cooperative. Rural Telephone has sued, claiming that Innovative defaulted on $500 million loan. (See "Various ICC Lawsuits Remain Unsettled").
In a summer PSC meeting, at which representatives of both parties were present, Valencio Jackson, commission chair, urged that the parties move forward as quickly as possible so V.I. residents would know the status of their phone company. Since that time Rural Telephone has filed another lawsuit against Innovative, and Innovative has responded with a counter claim.
Most of Friday's meeting was devoted to St. Croix Renaissance and Caribbean Energy Resources applications for interconnect orders to supply power to the Water and Power Authority and with WAPA's proposed rate increases. (See "WAPA Rate Hike Suspended By PSC").
The Commission also considered a request by WAPA to pay its annual assessment of about $600,000 to the PSC in installments. The request was denied.
At its Nov. 10 meeting, the PSC had asked WAPA to justify its collection of a surcharge for streetlights from utility customers. Commission members have expressed the desire to do away with the surcharge. (See "PSC Wants Reports on WAPA's Streetlight Funds").
WAPA has received about $2.1 million annually from the surcharge. Alberto Bruno-Vega, WAPA chief executive officer, said this is the same amount paid to the utility previously by the Public Works Department, so WAPA hasn't gained a surplus to upgrade the lights.
WAPA submitted documents concerning the surcharge just before Friday's meeting. PSC staff recommended any action on the surcharge be delayed until a review could be made of those documents.
A letter from Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg advocating the discontinuance of the surcharge was read into the record.

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