Gov. John deJongh Jr. has submitted legislation to authorize a $42.5 million bond to cover a 30-percent matching contribution for several federal stimulus grants that are funding a major broadband infrastructure project in the territory.
The legislation will empower a corporate subsidiary of the Public Finance Authority, the V.I. Next Generation Network (viNGN), to oversee completion of the “middle mile” fiber network by June 2013.
"Middle mile" refers to the internet infrastructure that links retail-level internet providers and telecommunication services to the massive undersea fiber optic trunk cables that carry regional and global data traffic.
Once completed, the new network should vastly increase the potential internet speed of customers served by it.
This particular bit of stimulus funding is meant to encourage economic development and enable access to online educational, health care, and government services for the elderly and residents facing high unemployment and poverty rates.
The project calls for connecting as many as 325 community institutions to broadband with a focus on key institutions such as schools, libraries, the university, hospitals, public safety agencies, and government buildings and centers.
As many as 43,000 households and 2,500 businesses also stand to benefit by enabling local Internet service providers to use the project’s open network.
Local internet providers will also be able to buy access to the network and sell it back to their customers. For the home user, that means a service speed of10 megabits per second—or in layman’s terms, being able to download a book or movie in the blink of an eye.
In a letter introducing the legislation to Senate President Ronald Russell, deJongh said that in addition to business and education benefits, the broadband expansion is vital for public safety agencies, including the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) operations center, the Police Department, the Fire Service, and the E-911 Public Safety Answering Point.
The proposed legislation establishes a partnership between the Public Finance Authority and the V.I. Water and Power Authority, allowing cross-purchases of communications and power services between the two independent government agencies.
It will enable the broadband initiative to use WAPA assets, such as conduits, utility poles and easement space in facilities—critical infrastructure and services with in-kind value of $15.5 million that WAPA will contribute by the second quarter of 2011. The ability for cross-purchases of communications and power services between the PFA and WAPA was integral to the approval of the federal grants.
“Ultimately, this historic build-out of essential infrastructure development will enhance the desirability of the Virgin Islands as a business location, and enable students and businesses to do distance learning or working, accessing global consumer or financial markets,” deJongh said.