Innovative preparing for new competition in V.I.


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ST. THOMAS - With a new chief executive officer at the helm, Innovative is poised to take on the competitors that soon will enter the marketplace with the launch of the territory's V.I. Next Generation Network.

The V.I. Next Generation Network was formed after the territory was awarded $107 million in federal grants to build the territory's first open access broadband network.

When the government project was awarded, Innovative already was working on its own project to upgrade the old telecom system to a hybrid coaxial cable and fiber-optic network. The Next Generation Network is expected to be completed in the next six months.

Service providers such as Innovative will be able to rent space on the government's broadband network and compete for customers, forcing Innovative to step up its game to retain its customer base and attract new customers according to Innovative CEO Shawn O'Donnell.

O'Donnell said he arrived in the Virgin Islands in August and hit the ground running. He comes from a long career in the telecommunications industry.

He told The Daily News that the company is 99 percent finished with its new infrastructure project, which was named Evo by Innovative. About 45 percent of Innovative's customers - about 15,000 - have been switched to the new Evo network so far, and crews are out every day installing the connections to individual homes and businesses, he said.

"By the end of the year, we want to get every customer on Evo," O'Donnell said.

When the new network is installed in an area, Innovative puts notices in customer bills and posts notices in the area encouraging people to call and schedule connection. Each home or business must have a technician come and connect the customer to the new network.

In 2011, Innovative submitted a four-year modernization plan to the V.I. Public Services Commission, which regulates Innovative's telephone and cable services. As part of the plan, Innovative promised to invest $78 million in a new hybrid network for its phone, cable and Internet services.

"We well exceeded that, and we accelerated that," O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell said the company has spent more than $100 million on the infrastructure and other upgrades.

Innovative just launched 8-megabyte Internet service and will be expanding that to 10 megabytes and beyond in the coming months, he said.

The company also is about to launch the next 11 high definition cable channels, including many of the major broadcast networks.

"Our goal was to have it by the Olympics," he said.

Another 10 high definition channels will be offered by the end of the year, he said.

The company is also investing in its workforce, conducting employee training and working to improve customer service. Innovative is also developing a training program with the public high schools' vocational education programs to train future installers and technicians and offer them internships and jobs.

Despite the fact that V.I. Next Generation Network will create a new field of competitors for Innovative, the company is working with the government agency and likely will become a customer themselves, according to O'Donnell.

"They have pieces of network that will be helpful to us," he said. "We're preparing ourselves to be ready for an open playing field, we just want it to be a fair playing field."

An announcement about a contract with V.I. Next Generation Network will be made shortly, according to O'Donnell.

He said he is confident that with the major improvements the company is making to infrastructure and services, Innovative will still be a fierce competitor in the V.I. market.

"We're pulling this company forward to be a much more competitive player," he said. "And we are hearing from the community that we are doing better."

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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