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Public Services Commission Initiates Probe into Liberty Mobile’s Service Challenges

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In a move reflecting escalating concerns over service disruptions, the Public Services Commission (PSC) has commenced a formal investigation into Liberty Mobile’s operational challenges, following its acquisition of AT&T’s local operations. This decision comes in the wake of substantial feedback from affected customers, spotlighting issues encountered during the network’s migration process.

During a recent session, PSC Executive Director Sandra Satori briefed commissioners on a surge of customer grievances, amplified by observations from social media platforms. These complaints predominantly revolve around the quality of calls, delays in text messaging, frequent call drops, and inconsistent area coverage. Notably, Satori emphasized that these service disruptions persisted even after customers received system upgrades, leading to a spike in spam notifications and complications with number portability.

Satori advised the commission to closely scrutinize Liberty Mobile’s acquisition and migration strategies, alongside its efforts to enhance wireless service quality within the territory.

Commissioner Laura Nichols-Samms, who recently transitioned to Liberty Mobile, shared her personal encounter with the migration process. She highlighted the confusion caused by pre-migration communications being issued in Spanish, a barrier for non-Spanish speakers. Nichols-Samms also recounted a significant service interruption she experienced, which necessitated a cumbersome visit to Liberty’s St. Thomas office—a sentiment echoed by many in similar straits.

In response to these concerns, Ravindra Maywahlall, Liberty’s new country manager, outlined several corrective measures. These include prioritizing communications in English, augmenting the number of English-speaking representatives, and introducing “fast track lines” for specific customer groups requiring urgent assistance. Maywahlall also mentioned that compensation for service disruptions is being considered on an individual basis.

Despite these assurances, the commission expressed dissatisfaction, particularly highlighting the inconvenience for customers in St. John, who must travel to St. Thomas for new SIM cards or devices. Commissioner David Hughes stressed the urgency of establishing a local presence on St. John to alleviate customer hardships.

Furthermore, Commissioner Raymond Williams criticized the overall management of the migration process, labeling the service quality and response times as severely lacking. The limited residency of senior management in the USVI, including Maywahlall, was identified as a contributing factor to these operational shortcomings.

Bala Balakrishnan, overseeing the migration program, presented a technical overview, emphasizing ongoing efforts to ensure network compatibility and enhance customer support. Despite these initiatives, the commission remains concerned about the pace and impact of the migration, drawing comparisons to tech industry precedents for halting problematic rollouts.

Concluding the session, the majority of commissioners endorsed the staff’s recommendation to initiate a thorough investigation into Liberty Mobile’s migration efforts. This step underscores the commission’s commitment to ensuring the telecommunications provider addresses the myriad issues impacting its service quality and customer satisfaction.

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SBA Launches T.H.R.I.V.E. Training Program for Small Business Owners in 2024

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The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has unveiled the T.H.R.I.V.E. (Train, Hope, Rise, Innovate, Venture, Elevate) training program, set to begin in 2024. This initiative, evolving from the previous Emerging Leaders program, is tailored to bolster the expansion and longevity of small businesses throughout the United States, including those in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Starting on June 18 and concluding on December 10, 2024, T.H.R.I.V.E. offers a blend of online and in-person sessions. The curriculum is designed to enhance leadership skills, strategic financial management, market innovation, and the development of a vibrant company culture. Participants will engage in an interactive format, receiving guidance from experts and creating a comprehensive three-year strategic growth plan.

Isabel Casillas Guzman, the 27th Administrator of the SBA, stressed the importance of the program. “The T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined initiative arms budding small business leaders with the essential tools and knowledge, providing them access to top economic minds, which is crucial for competing in the global market,” she noted.

To qualify, businesses must have been operational for at least three years, generate minimum annual revenues of $250,000, employ at least one person besides the owner, and the owner must participate throughout the six-month program duration.

Josué E. Rivera, SBA’s district director for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, emphasized the training’s collaborative approach. “Our innovative cohort model not only fosters a network of support but also connects participants with leading figures in the industry and government. This approach is instrumental in cultivating business growth and sustainable practices,” Rivera said.

Wayne Huddleston, SBA senior area manager for the U.S. Virgin Islands, highlighted the program’s local impact. “For small business owners in the U.S. Virgin Islands, this program offers crucial tools and knowledge to help them diversify their revenue streams and expand their operations. I urge interested entrepreneurs to apply before the April 28 deadline, as space is limited,” he urged.

Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Virgin Islands interested in the 2024 T.H.R.I.V.E. cohort can obtain more information and apply by visiting the SBA’s official website or by contacting the SBA’s St. Croix office at 340-473-7945. Applications are open until April 28, 2024.

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Leadership Transition at RTPark as CEO Peter Chapman Announces Departure

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The Research and Technology Park (RTPark) is set for a new chapter in leadership as CEO Peter H. Chapman has announced he will be stepping down after a dynamic and impactful six years at the helm. Chapman, credited with steering RTPark through a period marked by strategic innovations and robust growth, will see his contract conclude without renewal. His future endeavors will concentrate on his venture, Urban Policy Innovations (UPI), an economic development and real estate advisory firm, as revealed in a recent RTPark press release.

Chapman’s era at RTPark is distinguished by remarkable financial achievements and the enhancement of the community’s socio-economic landscape in the Virgin Islands. Under his guidance, RTPark was distinguished with the 2020 Economic Development Organization of the Year award by the International Economic Development Council. The park’s business portfolio witnessed a substantial 275% growth, while its revenues soared by over 300%, obliterating a $4 million debt accumulated before Chapman’s leadership in 2018. Notably, RTPark’s support for the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) saw a dramatic increase, contributing $3 million in 2023—a more than 300% rise since 2018, cumulating to approximately $14 million in support since RTPark’s inception.

Reflecting on his tenure, Chapman expressed his dedication to the economic diversification efforts of the RTPark and the broader Virgin Islands community. “Leading the RTPark has been a privilege, and I am thankful for the trust and opportunity granted by the RTPark Board of Directors and the organization’s visionary founders,” he remarked.

Chapman attributed the success of RTPark to a vigorous economic development strategy that propelled tech sector growth and diversified revenue streams. This approach included enticing new enterprises, nurturing startups, developing the workforce, facilitating access to capital, and enhancing infrastructure. He also acknowledged the crucial role of RTPark-affiliated companies in fueling the organization’s expansion and its significant investments in UVI.

As Chapman prepares for his departure, he remains devoted to a smooth transition and the continued prosperity of RTPark’s projects. He hinted at his potential involvement in special economic development projects within the Virgin Islands post-RTPark, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to serve and his anticipation for RTPark’s future trajectory.

“The collective achievements during my tenure are a reflection of the collaborative effort and commitment of our team, partners, and the community. I am proud of our accomplishments and eager to witness RTPark’s ongoing success,” Chapman concluded.

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Launch of GERS Personal Loan Program: A New Opportunity for Government Employees

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The Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS) has officially announced the opening for expressions of interest in its newly relaunched personal loan program, sparking excitement among its members. Following a resolution in January by the GERS Board of Trustees, $20 million has been earmarked to fuel this initiative, aimed at providing financial assistance to its members. This revival splits the allocated funds equally between the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John administrative districts.

Eligibility for this financial opportunity is extended to active members who have contributed for a minimum of two years. They can apply for loans up to $10,000, repayable over a span of five years or before the borrower reaches the age of 70, at an interest rate of 8%.

Members interested in availing themselves of this opportunity are encouraged to express their interest through an online loan interest form or by personally visiting GERS offices. The deadline for submission is set for April 18, before noon. An application fee of $50 is required as part of the process, as stated by the agency.

Following the initial expression of interest, the pre-qualification stage will commence. Successful candidates will then be notified to arrange interview appointments, proceeding in the sequence in which their expressions of interest were received. This structured approach ensures a transparent and orderly process, allowing members to step closer to financial empowerment through the GERS personal loan program.

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