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Territory's Milestone Broadband Build-Out Continues

(Tuesday, February 01, 2011)

~ARRA Grant Awards Enable Historic Build-Out Through Public/Private Partnership~

On Tuesday, Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. took the next step in fulfilling his vision for the historic build-out of the Territory’s broadband technology system. The Chief Executive, in his capacity as Chairman of the Board, convened the first board of directors meeting of the Virgin Islands Next Generation Network (viNGN) at the office of the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority (“PFA”) on St. Thomas. As a subsidiary of the PFA, the viNGN is poised to expand the Territory’s broadband capabilities through the development of a fiber “middle mile” network by June 2013, a critical infrastructure project made possible through a public/private partnership.

“The build-out of our broadband infrastructure is a milestone achievement that will modernize and expand our communications and internet capabilities without limitation and will further spur economic growth, opening up tremendous possibilities for the small business and entrepreneurial communities. This effort will also expand access to the underserved and will uplift educational and learning opportunities territory-wide,” Governor de Jongh said.

Today’s meeting was an opportunity for the board to hold its first organizational session regarding the timelines, scope, and deliverables of viNGN and to discuss implementation parameters going forward.

“We are being very closely watched and monitored by our funding source, the U.S. Department of Commerce, but this is expected given we were the only state or territory to have received all four Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) funding awards. The Board is pleased by the initial steps that the viNGN has taken in moving expeditiously to file a draft environmental assessment (EA) three days early, on January 28th. We are hopeful that we will shortly be receiving a ‘finding of no significant impact,’ which will then enable us to go out for proposals to select firms for major construction. It is this aspect of the project that is also beneficial to our community as job creation will be realized,” the Governor continued.

In 2010, the Virgin Islands was awarded four major grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) totaling approximately $70 million to implement a core fiber ring network on all four islands, to renovate or establish public computer centers, and provide training for educational and economic development. The fiber ring network will be interconnected with submarine cables to the mainland and will substantially reduce internet connectivity costs and will increase end users internet access speeds. This historic initiative will enable industry diversification, new job creation in the technology field, as well as additional opportunities for small businesses and community organizations.

“A primary component of this project, and central to its success, will be the involvement of broadband providers as they are our intended customers and ultimately the provider of services to the Virgin Islands community. The Board, upon my recommendation, established a Broadband Coalition Committee that will meet with local providers and keep them informed of the process, especially the timing of the project’s goals. This is a tremendous opportunity for not only the improvement of service quality to VI customers but also opens tremendous small business and entrepreneurial opportunities, “stated Julito Francis, President/Chief Executive Officer of viNGN.

The viNGN project will lay 244 miles of new fiber cables connecting over 700 pieces of network equipment, and will establish or renovate over 45 public computer centers throughout the territory.

The viNGN Board members include: Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. as Chairman, Alfred Boschulte as Vice Chairman, Julito Francis, Peter Schultz, Douglas Woodhead, Hugo Hodge of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority, and Keith O’Neale. Future viNGN board of directors meetings during Fiscal Year 2011 will be held at 9:00 AM on March 2, April 6, May 4, July 6, and September 7 at the PFA building on St. Thomas.