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Senate Votes to Escalate Complaints Against Liberty VI to Federal Level Due to Poor Service

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The legislative body of the U.S. Virgin Islands took decisive action against Liberty VI, a telecommunications provider, due to ongoing service quality issues. On Monday, a bill was passed unanimously, instructing the Public Services Commission (PSC) to lodge a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against Liberty Latin America, and its subsidiaries Liberty Mobile USVI and Liberty Mobile Puerto Rico. This move comes in the wake of Liberty VI’s less than satisfactory progress report in January regarding its transition from AT&T’s networks.

In a revealing session one day prior to a legislative hearing, the PSC’s executive director reported to the Committee on Government Operations about the constant stream of customer grievances regarding Liberty VI’s services. These complaints ranged from dropped calls and delayed texts to absent cellular service, problematic system updates, and billing issues.

At the heart of January’s hearing, Liberty VI’s newly appointed country manager, Ravindra Maywahlall, was unable to provide assurances to senators that the migration woes would be swiftly addressed. Senator Samuel Carrion expressed concerns that the subpar service was impacting the territory’s standard of living and business operations, stressing the need for the company to enhance its customer service.

Following an escalation in customer complaints, the PSC initiated an investigation into Liberty Mobile. The company, at the brink of finishing its challenging migration process by the end of February, faced potential regulatory actions if unable to show significant improvements in service delivery.

Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, in the March 25th Legislative Session, introduced Bill 35-0247, escalating the measures against Liberty VI. She highlighted the absence of customer service representatives in the territory, leaving customers with no option but to endure long waits on the 611 support line. She described the situation as Virgin Islanders being trapped and called for urgent action against what she termed a “dangerous unregulated industry.”

The bill saw widespread support from other senators. Senator Alma Francis Heyliger remarked on the communication challenges faced by customers post AT&T’s departure. She ominously warned of repercussions if Liberty VI’s promised migration completion by March 31st was not met, especially with their revised timeline suggesting a completion between March and April.

Senator Kenneth Gittens echoed the need for firm action against Liberty, urging another telecom provider, Viya, to improve its service. The consensus among legislators was clear: telecom providers must reassess and significantly improve their services for the people of the Virgin Islands.

The resolution was passed with unanimous support from all 12 senators present, marking a critical step towards addressing the telecom service quality issues in the territory.

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Trailblazing DiasporaLink Act Spearheaded by Congresswoman Plaskett Clears House Hurdle

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The House of Representatives has recently endorsed H.R. 3385, better known as the DiasporaLink Act, a pioneering initiative led by Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett. This groundbreaking measure mandates a comprehensive feasibility study by the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information on the prospects of deploying a trans-Atlantic submarine fiber optic cable. This cable is envisaged to forge a direct link between the United States and Africa via the U.S. Virgin Islands, marking a monumental stride towards bridging digital divides.

Congresswoman Plaskett has lauded the bill’s approval, highlighting its dual significance in bolstering America’s national security interests and fostering economic growth through enhanced internet connectivity to Africa and the Caribbean from U.S. territories. The envisioned study will delve into the strategic implications of this venture for the Virgin Islands and its alignment with broader American objectives in these regions.

Highlighting a current gap in infrastructure, Plaskett pointed out, “At present, the U.S. lacks a direct fiber optic connection to Africa, a continent burgeoning with economic potential and presenting unique national security considerations. The existing dependency on foreign and commercial networks for such connectivity positions the U.S. at a disadvantage,” underscoring the national security and economic imperatives driving the DiasporaLink Act.

Placing the connectivity hub within the U.S. Virgin Islands is a strategic decision aimed at capitalizing on the territory’s geographic advantages to benefit the entire nation and its territories. Plaskett elaborated on the transformative prospects of the DiasporaLink project for the local and national economy, forecasting it as a catalyst for high-tech employment in the Virgin Islands and a magnet for digital enterprises, thereby reinforcing the islands’ role in the global digital economy.

The proposal also reveres previous telecommunications ventures like the GlobalCrossing cables in St. Croix, advocating for a government-maintained link that ensures the durability and reliability of future connectivity endeavors.

In an expression of gratitude, Plaskett acknowledged Stephan Adams, CEO of viNGN, for his pivotal contributions to shaping DiasporaLink, along with Congressman Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) and House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) for their bipartisan backing.

As the DiasporaLink Act progresses to the Senate, its potential approval signals a transformative chapter in digital connectivity and economic prospects, promising extensive benefits not only for the Virgin Islands but also fostering a new frontier of trans-Atlantic partnership with Africa.

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Liberty VI Pledges Enhanced Service Following System Upgrade

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Liberty VI announced on Wednesday its nearing completion of a comprehensive system upgrade, with the majority of its mobile customers in the U.S. Virgin Islands already benefiting from the new infrastructure. This transition, affecting over 90 percent of its clientele, marks a significant step forward in enhancing telecommunications services in the region.

The transition from AT&T’s network has not been without its challenges, prompting some customers to explore alternatives. Amidst this backdrop and an ongoing investigation by the V.I. Public Services Commission, Liberty VI remains committed to elevating the quality of its services and network capabilities, aiming for the project’s completion between March and April 2024.

Ravindra Maywahlall, the country manager for Liberty VI, commended the technical team’s relentless efforts to overcome the hurdles faced during this migration. He noted significant strides in improving billing systems and expanding global roaming coverage, now encompassing over 200 countries.

Maywahlall extended his appreciation to the customers for their patience and understanding throughout this period. He emphasized the migration’s long-term benefits, including superior connectivity, customized communication solutions, and enhanced entertainment offerings, all designed to meet the specific needs of the U.S. Virgin Islands community.

Despite the vast majority of customers having transitioned, Liberty VI acknowledges that some may encounter temporary disruptions. These are typically resolved with simple device updates or restarts, and in some cases, may require device reconfiguration or a new SIM card.

In preparation for the final migration phase, Liberty VI has bolstered its customer support and introduced an educational segment on its website to guide customers through the transition. The company advises following these recommendations closely for a smooth update process, including keeping devices updated and connected to Wi-Fi.

Post-migration, customers can look forward to a more streamlined billing process, enhanced account management, and easier access to sales and customer support across multiple channels.

Maywahlall also highlighted the broader impacts of the upgrade, underscoring Liberty’s investment in innovation, infrastructure, job creation, and community engagement through charitable contributions. This initiative is part of Liberty’s commitment to establishing itself as a leading telecommunications provider dedicated to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For assistance post-migration or inquiries about the transition, customers are encouraged to contact Liberty’s Mobile Customer Service at 1(833) 641-3035 or visit their local Liberty store. For those awaiting migration or with questions, support is available by calling 611 or 1(800) 331-0500.

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Fiber Cable Undertaking by Liberty VI Faces Delays, Risks $85 Million Federal Grant

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The ambitious underground fiber cable project by Liberty VI, an integral part of the Connect USVI program, has hit significant roadblocks. Initially aimed at enhancing the region’s telecommunications infrastructure with a more disaster-resilient underground fiber system, the project now faces the peril of missing critical deadlines, potentially forfeiting nearly $85 million in federal funding.

Ravindra Maywahlall, Liberty Country Manager, during a recent Senate Committee on Housing, Transportation, and Telecommunications meeting, highlighted the Department of Public Works (DPW) as the principal obstacle. Maywahlall emphasized the urgency of meeting the project’s milestones, specifically the connection of 18,400 homes to fiber broadband by the end of 2024, equating to 40% project completion. Despite submitting 72 permit packages for over 19,000 homes, Liberty VI has received approval for only 18 packages, covering approximately 4,000 homes. Maywahlall expressed concern over the potential loss of the grant, lamenting the setback in developing infrastructure crucial for all Virgin Islanders.

The absence of a DPW representative at the meeting left a gap, as their letter presented a contrasting view. The letter highlighted the agency’s policy requiring a minimum trench depth of 24 inches for undergrounding efforts, in contrast to Liberty’s proposed micro trenching technique, which involves shallower trenches of 8 to 12 inches. This discrepancy raised concerns about Liberty’s micro trenching plans, particularly on federally funded highways.

DPW’s letter also addressed challenges in coordination and execution. Instances of unauthorized work and damage to public infrastructure were cited, alongside deficiencies in Liberty’s work, including issues with vault covers, trench filling, and inadequate stripping. The preservation of roadways during the trenching process was emphasized as a key concern of DPW, influencing their permit review process.

Senator Marise James expressed frustration at DPW’s absence, which hindered a comprehensive understanding of the issues. Meanwhile, Liberty VI maintained that DPW’s slow permit approval process was the main cause of delay. Jose Arias, Liberty’s construction director, noted that their trenching was confined to areas permitted by DPW, but clarity on micro trenching on different road types remained elusive.

As the project spans both local and federal routes, Jean Pierre Oriol, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, acknowledged the complexity of the situation. With a significant portion of the micro trenching planned for local roads, the need to navigate between different road types complicates the project further.

Senator Marvin Blyden, chair of the committee, recognizing the impasse, pledged to convene a meeting with all stakeholders. The urgency to resolve these issues is heightened by the risk of losing vital federal funding, with Blyden emphasizing the need for proactive solutions and no room for excuses moving forward.

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