The BVI Electricity Corporation has filed suit against BVI Cable TV, claiming the company accessed its utility poles without permission. BVI Cable disputes the claim. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

The BVI Electricity Corporation has been granted an injunction against BVI Cable TV after claiming that the cable company was “creating safety risks” to the public and BVIEC employees by accessing its poles without permission, according to a statement the utility issued last Thursday.

The cable company, which laid off much of its staff after Hurricane Irma, has countered by accusing the BVIEC of “effectively halt[ing]” its ability to get back in business by charging excessive fees in order to use the poles.

According to the BVIEC statement, prior to the storms, the ownership of the territory’s thousands of utility poles was divided among BVIEC and the three telecommunications companies, which were allowed to attach to each other’s poles at no cost. However, following the storms, the BVIEC said, it saw an opportunity to “better manage the pole infrastructure, … which would ensure the promotion of safety to both the public and BVIEC’s personnel, and create aesthetically pleasing installations throughout the BVI.”

Subsequently, the BVIEC said, it offered BVI Cable, a subsidiary of CCT Global Communications, the same commercial terms and rates as those accepted by FLOW. Digicel had already signed an agreement with the utility in 2014, according to the BVIEC.

Cable response

However, BVI Cable, in a statement sent out on Wednesday of last week, accused the utility of “charging a rate far exceeding what another local telecommunications provider is being charged” and acting in contravention of the BVIEC Act — which indicates that BVIEC “may prescribe different tariffs or methods of charge for different types of service or supply and for different areas” — by prescribing different charges for the same service in the same area.

However, BVIEC said the act only applies to electricity, not the use of pole attachments.

The BVIEC also said BVI Cable attached to its poles without permission.

“After it became apparent that BVI Cable TV was not negotiating in good faith… — and more importantly some of their reckless attachments were creating safety risks to both the public and BVIEC’s personnel — the board of directors of BVIEC issued instructions for legal action to be taken against BVI Cable TV,” read the statement. “For BVI Cable TV to publicly accuse BVIEC of obstructing them from rebuilding their network is likened to a squatter accusing a landowner of obstructing the construction of a building on that landowner’s property.”

But according to BVI Cable, the company “never prevented or even attempted to charge BVIEC for using any of our pole infrastructure either before or after the storms — whereas, since the storms, BVIEC has consistently tried to prevent BVI Cable TV from attaching to their pole infrastructure either by outright barring us or charging exorbitant fees several times the amount charged to another local telecommunications company.”

BVIEC did admit that after the hurricanes, it “commandeer[ed]” 15 poles owned by BVI Cable, given the state of emergency “and for the sake of the greater good of restoring electrical supply to the territory.” The company apologised for this in its statement.

“It has always been BVIEC’s intentions to replace these 15 poles and we will endeavour to do so shortly,” the statement read.

Court case

According to the BVIEC, a judgment handed down by the court on Aug. 9, “after assessing the submissions of both BVIEC and BVI Cable TV, ordered an injunction restraining BVI Cable TV from placing any more attachments on BVIEC’s poles.”

The Aug. 9 injunction was not immediately available. A court order from High Court Judge Ermin Moise, dated July 18, gave BVI Cable an extension to file a defence to the claim, and ordered the company to pay BVIEC $800. He adjourned the matter to Sept. 17.

BVI Cable, aside from defending itself in the suit, said it would appeal to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission. However, the BVIEC claimed electricity does not fall under the regulation of the TRC.

TRC Chairman Guy Malone was out of the territory and could not be immediately reached for comment. BVI Cable said the company would also be appealing to Premier Andrew Fahie.

In its statement, BVIEC said it “anxiously looks forward to the day when BVI Cable TV executes an agreement for attachment to BVIEC’s poles at the same commercial terms and rate established with the other telecommunication company.”