St. John Tradewinds News

Phone Company Executives Say 9,000 EVO Boxes Obsolete; Plan Replacements

Pictured above: If you have one of these in your home or office, chances are you wish you didn’t. Executives at Innovative recently told regulators at the Public Services Commission that the 9,000 EVO boxes they have installed on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix since 2011 are obsolete and have to be replaced.
Photo courtesy of Judi Shimel.

ST. THOMAS — An unpopular utility device that was supposed to modernize home communication may soon find its way through the door, this according to the chief executive officer of Innovative.

Innovative CEO Alvaro Pilar told members of the Public Services Commission the EVO three way device will soon be replaced and his company is working out an orderly way to replace 9,000 devices distributed over the past six years. Pillar told public regulators at the PSC the devices still worked but are now obsolete.

With help from the company’s technical director, Pillar showed off a series of replacement boxes that Innovative says will meet their customer’s expectations.

When EVO boxes first appeared in 2011, Innovative customers were promised state-of-the-art home communications that would deliver telephone, cable tv and high speed internet service through a single modem. What customers got instead was described by about a dozen customers who sat in conference rooms on St. Thomas and St. Croix during the teleconferenced session.

One customer, Kye Martin from St. Croix, was so frustrated with her cable service that she gave the EVO box a new moniker — the evil box. Not only did the cable tv signal turn her screen into a snowy, buzzy display lasting hours, she said, there was no response on the company’s customer service phone line.

“This evil box is the worst thing that ever happened to us. You never gave us a rebate — never, ever, ever. I want to know what you’re going to do about the tv going off and staying off all night,” Martin said. “I guess you can tell I’m getting ready to get rid of my Innovative.”

Other customers complained that slow internet speeds kept them from using home computers and tablets. Phone service, they said, suffered as well. “It seems like we’re subject to substandard equipment,” said St. Thomas customer Devin Grant.

One of the most common complaints dealt with the modem’s back up batteries and the expense of replacement batteries, when they could be found. Pillar said the new modems would address the problem by getting rid of the old modem and the faulty batteries all at once.

“What we decided to do is, instead of changing batteries — because after two years, they start to degrade —  instead of changing the batteries, give me the box. I’m going to give you a new box, so that way you get a new battery and a new box that will sustain the higher speeds,” the CEO said.

PSC staff members say the agency has been inundated with complaints, so many that records kept only show those customers who wrote and did not include those who called.

Legal Counsel Boyd Sprehn said regulators decided to ask for a quality of service report as part of an ongoing transfer of control process. Innovative is currently in the midst of an acquisition by Choice Communications.

Regulators were well aware the public was unhappy with EVO, Sphren said. When they asked Innovative in June for a report, it seemed like one way the PSC could serve the public by holding the phone company accountable.

PSC Chairman Andy Rutnik added his own complaints about dealing with a modem that never performed as promised. Pillar said the company has been sending notifications, by voicemail and email, to customers, letting them know their service will soon improve.

Speaking during a break in the PSC meeting, the Innovative CEO admitted the service upgrades were a work in progress. Not only do the EVO boxes need a swap out, Innovative’s customer service center does as well.

“We have our schedule, the same as any utility company has their schedule. We definitely believe that if you don’t have the service, you should get a credit for your service, and we have a process to do that,” Pillar said.