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Thursday, March 23, 2023


May 2, 2001 – The Public Services Commission is smack dab in the middle in a clash of the islands' competing communications giants, Innovative Telephone, a/k/a Jeffrey Prosser's enterprise, and Wireless World, otherwise known as Cornelius Prior's company.
At issue is Wireless World's bid to become a competitor to Innovative in providing local telephone service.
The PSC has collected stacks of briefs, affidavits, petitions and complaints from the two parties — who first entered the Virgin Islands telecommunications market as partners in 1987, when they formed Atlantic Tele-Network as a holding company to acquire the Virgin Islands Telephone Corp. from ITT Corp.
Both sides and the PSC have hired off-island attorneys specializing in telecommunications law in addition to their on-island counsel. According to paperwork on file from the hearing examiner, St. Thomas attorney Fred Watts, a key decision is due Wednesday.
Wireless World is a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlantic Tele-Network, a publicly held company which formerly owned Vitelco and of which Prior is the principal shareholder. Trying to break into the local telephone business in the Virgin Islands, Wireless World made its formal request to Vitelco last summer for interconnection. Vitelco, recently renamed Innovative Telephone, a part of Prosser's Innovative Communication Corp., has been the territory's sole carrier for local service, operating as a public utility under an exclusive franchise.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires existing telecommunications carriers to interconnect directly with the facilities and equipment of other carriers, upon reasonable request. In the best of all possible worlds, they are to work out the agreements themselves without input from any regulatory agency.
Innovative acknowledges that mandate. The issue is just how easy the carrier has to make it for the would-be rival.
The Telecommunications Act spells out various access functions and services that an existing carrier must make available, at reasonable cost, to another carrier requesting them. Under one provision, the carrier must provide, among other things:
* resale of their services at retail rates;
* number portability;
* dialing parity and access to telephone numbers;
* operator services, directory assistance and directory listing;
* access to poles, ducts, conduits and rights of way; and
* reciprocal compensation to carriers for the transport and termination of certain calls.
The law exempts so-called rural telecommunications companies (basically, smaller companies) from the following requirements that apply to larger ones:
* interconnection at any feasible point on non-discriminatory terms;
* unbundling of the carrier's network to offer price parts to competing local exchange carriers;
* resale of services at a discount off retail rates;
* notice of changes to the network; and
* collocation of a competitor's transmission equipment on the telephone company's property.
Innovative says it is a rural telecommunications company and has fewer than 100,000 lines and less than $1 billion in revenues. Wireless World says the PSC should take away that status.
In a statement supporting Wireless World's request, Prior discusses the trend toward "one-stop shops" for communications. Innovative Communication Corp., owned by Prosser's Emerging Communications Inc., announced early this year that it was changing the names of its various subsidiaries all to Innovative. That includes the telephone carrier, the territory's two cable television companies, Internet access and cellular phone service.
Wireless World, which is in the cable television business and also offers cell phone service and Internet access, needs to complete its one-stop shop with local telephone service, Prior said. Otherwise, it is competing with Innovative at a disadvantage.
Innovative says it has tried to be responsive to Wireless World's request, but it accuses Wireless World of negotiating in bad faith. Innovative says this is the third time Wireless World has made its request (the first time was under its previous ownership) but it didn't follow up the first two times. Innovative views the current request, filed last August 2000, as an extension of an earlier one, and says Wireless World has therefore missed deadlines for appealing to the PSC.
And Innovative attorney Kevin Rames suggests the issue is personal. "One can only speculate whether these 'negotiations' are another attempt by Prior to attack Prosser in order to gain leverage in redressing a number of perceived wrongs since these two partners went their separate ways," Rames wrote in an Innovative complaint against Wireless World.
The parting of the ways, at the end of 1997, was acrimonious. The split left Prior with ATN and its telephone holdings in Guyana, and Prosser with Vitelco. Both companies have added considerable holdings since then.
Wireless World argues that Innovative is using the rural telecommunications status to limit competition. An expert witness for Wireless World, Marvin H. Kahn of Exerter Associates Inc., says that, in many cases across the country, rural telecommunications companies have made room for other companies in their area without losing substantial business themselves.
"In general, the infusion of competition has been a stimulus to demand for telecommunications products and services," he said.

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