Dec. 15, 2006 — After almost a year of postponing debate on telecommunications matters, the Public Services Commission board opened up its agenda Friday to discuss requests made by the Legislature and Centennial Communications, a Puerto Rican-based telecommunications company.
According to William Roughton Jr., Centennial's vice president of legal affairs, the company is petitioning the PSC to become an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) in the Virgin Islands. If granted ETC status, Centennial would be able to receive federal universal service funds, which would allow the company to expand its business in the territory.
Roughton explained that all federal funds granted to Centennial will be spent in the Virgin Islands and would be used to enhance the company's network. Centennial would also use the money to set up new cell sites in both districts to improve wireless service for individuals living in rural areas.
Additionally, the company will continue to invest its own money in local service, and is currently in the process of setting up an undersea cable link from Puerto Rico to St. Croix.
"These improvements will benefit all local customers," he said, "and would help us improve our Internet coverage and boost our mobile wireless service."
Roughton said Centennial had "specific plans" for the funds, which would equal about $1.3 million a year.
PSC Chairwoman Alecia Wells explained that Centennial's request first came before the commission in 2005 and was subsequently referred to the Federal Communications Commission for approval. "The FCC has not ruled either way on the application, so we gave Centennial the opportunity to come here today and present their proposal," she explained.
Wells added that Centennial would have to fill out a questionnaire, created by the PSC, before any action could be taken on the matter.
"We'll get back to you in 60 days," she said.
The commission did, however, approve a request which will ultimately allow the Legislature to provide live broadcasts of all committee meetings conducted on St. Croix.
Last year, the Senate approved a bill appropriating $65,000 to purchase equipment for an FM microwave link between the legislative complex, St. George's Hill and Blue Mountain on St. Croix, so the hearings could be broadcast.
Subsequently, the Legislature and the executive branch entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to share the equipment, allowing the Legislature to broadcast from one of two channels used by the government, in exchange for installing and maintaining the equipment.
In order to use the channel, however, the Legislature first had to have the PSC's approval.
During Friday's meeting, Innovative Communication Corp. attorney Kevin Rames explained that the franchise agreements set up between the PSC and Innovative's cable companies allow for one government channel and one public-access channel.
With the MOU in place, the franchise agreements would additionally have to be amended to allow for two public-access channels, he added.
The PSC unanimously approved both requests.
Present during Friday's meeting were commissioners Joseph Boschulte, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Sirri Hamad, M. Thomas Jackson, Wells and Raymond L. Williams.
Board member Verne C. David was absent.
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