Home Commentary Op-ed A Reckless Move by the V.I. Senate

A Reckless Move by the V.I. Senate


Along with my colleagues on the viNGN board Alfred Boschulte and Keith O’Neale, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that the USVI Senate voted on Thursday, March 24 to send a request by viNGN for matching funds for the Federal Stimulus Broadband Project back to the Finance Committee for further consideration.

This reckless move will cause the Territory to actually lose the $68 million in federal grants to build a state-of-the-art fiber optic communications network throughout the USVI as well as the 51 public computer centers and training programs that viNGN is tasked with developing. We cannot let this happen. This grant is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the USVI to upgrade its communication network to world class standards and allow us to participate in the telecommunications revolution that is sweeping the rest of the world. It would be a crime, a travesty, to lose it.

I am a scientist and inventor and have lived on St. Thomas since 2001. In the 1960s and 1970s, as a scientist at Corning, I invented the fiber optics that are now used worldwide for communications. Nearly one billion miles of fiber have been deployed worldwide since that invention and all of them are based on my work. These fibers have been directly responsible for the spectacular improvement in telecommunications that has allowed the development of the Internet and other broadband services. I have remained active in this field as a scientist, inventor and businessman (now semi-retired) ever since and have been anxious to use my expertise to help the USVI.

In 2009, I urged Governor de Jongh to apply for federal stimulus funds aimed at building fiber optic communication networks in underserved states and territories. He agreed and we applied. In September of 2010, we were notified that we had won an award of approximately $68 million, provided the local government matched this grant with a $29 million contribution. Since then, viNGN was formed to oversee construction and operation of this network. I proudly serve as one of the seven directors of viNGN.

What are we going to build? First, we are building what is called an “open access middle mile broadband network.” That is a mouthful. What it means is that we are installing main loops of fiber optic cables on St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island. We are connecting these islands together through undersea fiber optic cable and connecting this network to the rest of the world through several existing long haul undersea fiber optic cables. This network will have extremely high bandwidth (information carrying capacity) and will be capable of serving all of the Territories’ communications needs for many, many years to come. It is also “open access,” which means viNGN is not going into the business of providing services to the end user (you), but rather, we will sell this bandwidth to the service providers who already serve you today, such as Choice, Innovative and Broadband VI who could not afford to build such an expensive network themselves. We are not going into the business of competing with them.

By connecting their existing networks into our core fiber network, they will be able to provide you with much better service than they can today. That means up to a thousand times faster Internet, better digital TV and telephone service. It will help us to attract companies (financial, technical, etc.) that require this high bandwidth for their operations to relocate to the USVI, and improve the competitiveness of companies already here, thereby bringing us much needed jobs and expanding our economy.

But that is not all; our network will also connect all of our schools, the university, libraries, medical facilities, government offices, police, fire, emergency services (such as 911 and disaster communications) and WAPA into this ultra high speed communication network. It will bring our communication system into the 21st century. This is a dream come true, but only if our government provides the matching funds required by the federal grants.

And, under these grants, we will receive funding to build and connect to this network 51 public computer centers with a total of 745 computer work stations which are available to the general public to have high speed Internet services that many people cannot afford at home. These will be located in public libraries, community centers, senior citizens centers and the Boys and Girls Clubs and can give our children, senior citizens and all residents direct access to a high speed computer Internet connection free of charge. These grants also provide us with funds to teach our citizens how to use and benefit from these services through a “Sustainable Broadband Adoption Project.”

I suspect that some service providers are nervous about this effort, thinking they will lose control of the near monopolies (and high cost poor service) they have enjoyed for many years. I repeat: we are not trying to compete with them. Rather, we are building a high speed network for their use (and yours), a network none of them could afford to build themselves. Don’t let this golden opportunity for the USVI to join the communications revolution slip through our hands. Without it, we will never compete against those that do have it. Future generation Virgin Islanders will never have the educational and economic opportunities this network can bring them.

Don’t delay; call your senator today and tell them you want them to support this project 100%. With your help, we and our children can all have a much brighter future.


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