I read with much interest your article published August 17 by Amy Roberts regarding LCCN (Love City Community Network) stepping up requests for donations as a result of the denial by the Virgin Islands Department of Licensing to allow LCCN the ability to charge its regular users of the Internet services they are providing a monthly fee.
St. John has a long history of one in which the community helps and supports one another in times of need. I have lived here on St. John for many years and after witnessing Irmaria first hand and seeing so many demonstrate why St. John is called Love City, I was shocked to see the lack of community support for LCCN. Watching neighbors helping neighbors by opening their homes to someone less fortunate or to clear the roads to access needed services, St. John has proven itself to be a strong community that takes care of its own. It is not a perfect place, but the people who live here are what makes it so near a perfect Paradise.
I live on the East End of St. John 4 miles from Coral Bay with nothing but National Park in between. We, along with our few dozen neighbors, willingly choose the remoteness. The East End is a rural residential community; no businesses, no bus service, just a beautiful place to live. We make sacrifices that the “big city” of Cruz Bay, or as we call it “town,” take for granted. While power was restored to town in October and November and to Coral Bay by the end of the year, we waited until January 26. Of the 120 utility poles from Coral Bay to East End less than 10 percent were still standing after Irma. The wires were finally cleared here only in June. The cell tower on Boudreaux which went down in Irma was replaced with two temporary towers that do not reach East End. We get one bar on the cell phone while standing in a sweet spot to try to make calls; even today almost one year later.
For months and months something as simple as an email meant driving all the way to town and later to the firehouse in Coral Bay to try to get some emails in and out using LCCN’s first Internet connection for the Coral Bay area. In a technology-rooted world, it was amazing that while everyone else around the world could watch live video from the Mars rover, we can’t make a call or send an email. As LCCN hooked up the fortunate ones on the west side of the island, the Coral Bay side struggled.
In May, LCCN approached me about setting up a site to allow their Internet signal to be bounced across Coral Bay to Calabash Boom, Quacco Zimmerman and John’s Folly area. This would also allow me Internet access. I was happy to be able to contribute. I have a solar system with batteries that served us well for 5 months after Irmaria. My wife and I have been blessed with having a roof and power and now Internet. I donated generously to LCCN the day I was “hooked up” and offered my site indefinitely with solar power to keep the Internet “on” no matter what happens to WAPA power or the other Internet providers. I am ashamed when I read that due to ¾s of the users of LCCN’s Internet service not having donated whatsoever that their staff is having to work for free just to keep the Internet on!
This organization started from scratch under unbelievable circumstances and has grown against all odds. Their heads and hearts are in the right place. They provide a much-needed service to a small isolated island community where huge businesses like AT&T still have not provided even a reliable cell signal to us on East End: Shame on AT&T. I wrote them a letter months ago and got nothing but a form letter in return. Viya makes commitments that are not being kept and for us on East End I am sure it will not be before the end of this year until we hear a dial tone. Again, I choose to live in a remote area, but these huge companies have a legal mandate to provide basic services to all, not to mention a moral obligation. Where are they?
Only LCCN has made any real effort to provide free community Internet service. They are building out a system that will provide Internet to all on St. John when the next disaster strikes. I do not know of any other provider taking the necessary steps to ensure we all have the ability to communicate with the outside world next time something happens. All this for a donation-only based business model. And worse, most users are not donating! Shame on those who use and take and not give back! I pledged my ongoing support to LCCN, so that not just me, but anyone within range of the signal that goes out from my site can have access. I hear about downloading movies using the LCCN-provided signal gobbling up the limited bandwidth and to know 80 percent of them are not even contributing. What happens when LCCN has to close its doors?
I am imploring anyone who reads this to donate. Then donate again and again. Please do not let this group fail. LCCN epitomizes what makes St. John a special place to live and work. Do not take for granted their efforts. I promise you will regret it next time we lose Internet. The big boys have demonstrated to us that we are small and not important to their business. We need to keep the Love in the Love City Community Network. Hey, it is a tax-deductible contribution for those that need the deduction, and for those that don’t, it is a small price for a portal to the world.
Jay Swartley, East End of St. John