Virgin Islanders’ prospects for getting “incredibly fast” internet service may be delayed by an incredibly slow permitting process at the Department of Public Works, the Public Services Commission was told on Tuesday.
Ricardo Portela, representing Liberty, asked the PSC to lobby DPW to work out a process so Liberty could make its goals. It should have infrastructure going past 40 percent of the territory’s 46,000 homes by the end of 2024 to meet Federal Communications Commission milestones. The FCC has granted Liberty $84 million in support of the project.
Plans originally called for the fiber network to run past 10,000 homes in 2022 and past another 12,000 in 2023. However, no construction was completed in 2022, and only 4,000 homes have been passed in 2023.
At the end of January, construction began in Sally’s Fancy, St. Croix. In March, four projects were started: the East End, Green Cay, and Sunny Isle-Clairmont on St. Croix and Estate Smith Bay on St. Thomas.
Portela told commission members he expected the permit process at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to be cumbersome but that permitting was easy compared to the process at DPW. He said some sort of “umbrella” permitting process would work instead of Liberty having to get a permit for every little region.
Commissioner Andrew Rutnik said this was an important project for the economic development of the territory. “I don’t think people are fully aware of the incredible speed of this network,” he said.
All four commissioners voted affirmatively on a motion to recertify Liberty as an eligible telecommunications provider and for the PSC executive director to lobby the DPW commissioner so the permit process could be streamlined.
The commissioners also streamlined their meeting, putting off until their October meeting a discussion of changing how ferries could calculate their ticket prices. Ferry owners’ legal representative Maria Hodge has written a long response opposing the draft report on how ferry rates should be determined.
The commission did approve maintaining the Water and Power Authority’s electric LEAC rate through the end of this year.
Attending the meeting were Commissioners Rutnik, Pedro Williams, Raymond Williams, and David Hughes.