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HomeNewsLocal newsPSC Urges Liberty V.I. Customers to Register Complaints

PSC Urges Liberty V.I. Customers to Register Complaints

Business owner Ginelle Francis listens to a question posed by PSC Personnel Manager Alicia Gumbs. (Source photo by Judi Shimel)
Business owner Ginelle Francis listens to a question posed by PSC Personnel Manager Alicia Gumbs. (Source photo by Judi Shimel)

A top official at the Public Services Commission is urging customers of Liberty V.I. services to submit written complaints to the agency. That appeal was heard during two days of public listening sessions held to let consumers air their telecommunications problems.

Less than a dozen people attended sessions in person held Wednesday and Thursday. An unknown number took part by way of live streaming video over social media. What those customers had to say left listeners wondering how many others shared the same woes.

Some reported loss of access to online banking and tech support services; others gave second-hand accounts of failed connections to the 911 emergency call line. Others said sporadic service from Liberty led to lost business, the inability to confirm medical appointments, and lost use of cell phone apps that depend on telecommunications to function properly.

The listening sessions were approved by public regulators acting on a recent vote by the 35th Legislature to file a complaint against Liberty with the Federal Communications Commission. PSC Executive Director Sandra Setorie sat in on the session held Wednesday on St. Croix. Setorie said the PSC’s ability to persuade federal authority depends on public input.

“If we don’t have direct testimony complaints listed on our register, we have no basis for our complaints,” the director said. “Even though some customers have directly contacted the FCC, most of those complaints have been disregarded.”

Setorie described the reports of poor service as major inconveniences that rate payers should not have to experience.

One testifier told PSC staff members how an off-island medical provider could not complete calls to their V.I.-based patient even when they were on the U.S. mainland, standing in front of their desk.

On St. Thomas, Daidre Petersen Heath spoke on behalf of her daughter, currently on the U.S. mainland seeking medical treatment. “My daughter is having a lot of trouble in the States with the area code, and her doctors are having a lot of trouble reaching her for appointments with the 340 exchange,” Heath said.

Those attending the sessions also heard comments from customers expressing frustration about the billing process.

Liberty customer Patricia Lord described her struggle completing online transactions. Since the transition (Liberty migration of customer lines from AT&T), my bank has not been able to send text messages, Lord said.

“It’s a huge inconvenience, since all of my banking is done online,” she said.

St. Thomas business owner Ginelle Francis and others told PSC staff members how she lost the ability to conduct transactions with customers over her Liberty phone.

“The phone was out for three months. That’s not suitable when you’re running a business. My customers can’t call. I can’t manage my credit cards. I call — the technician comes, they fiddle around and leave. The service ran for five minutes, then it drops out again,” Francis said.

In one instance, she said, a customer call stopped abruptly. “I thought the call had just dropped out, then I found out the call was cut off for nonpayment even though the bill was paid,” she said.

Janet Cook-Rutnik spoke of her Liberty billing and service problems from Thursday’s meeting on St. John. Those problems include loss of service lasting more than three months, forcing Rutnik to use What’s App to complete phone calls.

At one point, the testifier said she took the phone to a Liberty business office on St. Thomas where they replaced her SIM card. “But by the time I got back home, it didn’t work,” she said.

Perhaps one of the most unsettling accounts during Wednesday’s session came from Government Retirees, Inc. President Debra Christopher. The group leader said some retirees, and in some cases their caregivers, reported losing the ability to dial 911 and to receive emergency notifications on their phones.

Those concerns were echoed by St. Croix resident Karabo Molyneaux-Molloy. “If you’re not having adequate coverage now, how will they protect us if we’re having a hurricane?” she said.

After the meeting Malloy said she worked as a volunteer at VITEMA, taking calls during the passage of Hurricane Maria in 2017. She said she remembered callers reporting people having health crises, one person who appeared to have died, others calling who were scared and lonely.

AT&T did their best to keep calls coming through at the time she said. If Liberty is having the sort of problems that were mentioned in the listening sessions, she added, what kind of help would they be able to provide in case of the next hurricane?

“I hope they have some sort of a plan,” she said about Liberty.

Liberty V.I. spokesman Tomas Dardet shared a statement from Virgin Islands General Manager Ravindra Maywahlall. “We remain attentive to every request that the Virgin Islands Public Service Commission asks from us,” the manager said.

“As we stated before, we acknowledge that there have been difficulties with the transition process and continue addressing any issues,” he added.

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