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COMMUNICATIONS IN THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

In the past decade, the US Virgin Islands has experienced a boom in the use of local telecommunications services. I can recall when dialing to Puerto Rico for access to America Online or CompuServe was the standard option for Internet service. Now, with the territory having its own Internet service providers, namely COBEX, VIAccess and AT&T, hundreds of households have come to expect instant access to telephone circuits. Here is where the problems lie. The regulated local telephone service provider, VITELCO (Virgin Islands Telephone Corporation), has stated that its current switching system is nearing maximum capacity. I can believe this. Several of my senior friends tell me of the days when one could dial a local number with just two or three digits. I can remember back in the '70s and '80s when five digits were all that was needed to complete a phone call. St. Thomas/St. John was 774, 775 or 776. St. Croix was 772 or 773 — primary exchange, that is. Those days are gone. Remembering a phone number is a little more challenging than in the past. Where do we and VITELCO fit in? Let us take time to examine some of the expectations. 1. VITELCO has been challenged in the past 10 years by natural disasters — hurricanes. Regardless of what you might have heard, rebuilding the telephone infrastructure is not as simple as hanging out a new clothes line. In St. Thomas and St. John, the topography is unrelenting. On St. Croix, VITELCO was able to bury a large number of their main trunks and even implement newer, high-transmission fiber optic lines. Doing so on the more rugged islands was next to impossible. Remember, everyone wanted phone service back like yesterday. 2.The implementation of fiber optic services is critical to newer telephone services. Fiber optic offers digital communication services far beyond that of the ordinary analog copper cables. Digital communications uses the same process found in computers (1s and 0s) to send and receive messages. With a digital system, other computer-based services and features can come to reality. 3. VITELCO has to upgrade its current switching system to accommodate more service lines and more features. There are services that we often hear about but question when they will arrive locally. Some of the services include: Caller ID — This can only be done with a fully digital service. Subscribers should be aware that this service is not for free. It is an option the customer can request. ISDN – Integrated Services Digital Network allows customers to connect to the Internet and other telecommunications services via a high-speed digital circuit. As it stands right now, the fastest modem connection that one can obtain is 56K (kilobits). This is dependent upon your location and the performance of the cables in your neck of the woods. ISDN would pump up the connection speed to twice the speed of the 56K modems. Obviously, this type of service would cost more than an analog line. Thus, it will be some time before we can reap the benefits of changes to the territory's communications infrastructure. As users of the system, you are encouraged to make your concerns heard. I am open to research issues, wherever possible. You can contact me at terryt@viaccess .

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