Government House release – June 13, 2014
President of the Virgin Islands Next Generation Network (viNGN), Larry Kupfer, today advised Senate President Shawn Michael Malone that he would not be in attendance at Friday’s Committee of the Whole hearing called to discuss the Broadband Expansion Project Act and other matters. However, Kupfer used his letter to Malone to provide a detailed update on the work of viNGN which he says continues to yield immediate and tangible economic benefits as a result of the network build-out and other work in providing training and job skills as well as entrepreneurial development support, access to computer and access to the Internet.
“The economic contributions to the Territory of the broadband grants alone have been significant. Through the combination of federal government grant funding and local government funding, all of the grant-funded core backbone network construction work has been completed, and more than $35 million in construction contracts alone have been awarded, with the vast majority of the work completed by local contractors. Approximately $2 million in Gross Receipts Taxes has been paid to the U.S. Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue on behalf of our vendors, and approximately 500 jobs have been retained or created,” Kupfer wrote.
Kupfer departed the territory on Thursday to spend the weekend with his father and other family members on a trip that had been planned prior to President Malone’s scheduling of The Committee of the Whole hearing on Act 7257.
In updating Malone and members of the 30th Legislature on the work of viNGN, Kupfer said that almost 300 community anchor institutions have been connected. “We have now connected 258 Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs) to our 100% fiber optic cable, open access, wholesale broadband network, with connectivity of up to 1 Gigabit each (i.e. 1,000 megabits), and 111 of these CAIs have proven connectivity to the Internet and are ready to receive faster and more reliable broadband services from their selected Internet Service Provider (ISP) or ISPs, powered by viNGN’s network. This includes CAIs on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.” You may recall from our previous testimonies that viNGN’s network includes the connection of more than 300 CAIs which include public and private schools, public libraries, public safety entities, the hospitals, health clinics, the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and its Research and Technology Park (RT Park), and government departments and agencies.
Each CAI is provided a Cisco router/switch with capacity of up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) at no cost to the CAI and is connected to the viNGN network by reliable, high speed fiber optic cable.
CAI is responsible for selecting amongst the local ISPs, cellular phone companies and other broadband services providers to obtain internet and other broadband services, powered on and enhanced by viNGN’s wholesale broadband network, Kupfer said, adding, “With the equipment provided by viNGN at no cost to them, the CAIs are also better positioned to upgrade their other related equipment and software to be able to realize the full capacity of viNGN’s network and to more cost effectively and efficiently meet their operating goals well into the future.”
Kupfer also addressed the ongoing debate about whether viNGN is in competition with the local internet service providers doing business in the Virgin Islands. “The CAIs have a great deal of flexibility to be able to negotiate to receive the best service(s) at the best prices, as we have signed contracts with eight (8) local ISPs who can provide internet and other broadband services to any of their existing or prospective customers, including the CAIs that viNGN has and is connecting to its network and any local residences and businesses. We are also in discussion with another six (6) ISPs. You may recall from our previous testimonies that viNGN is operating as a wholesale broadband network provider to encourage economic growth and to provide much-needed, higher speed, more reliable and more accessible broadband infrastructure to retail providers – that is, the companies that sell internet connections and other broadband services to end-users, such as businesses, residences, and government users. Thus, the ISPs, cellular telephone companies and other broadband service providers are viNGN’s customers, not its competitors, and will connect to viNGN’s network, so that they can improve their product and service offerings and deliver broadband services to their customers at speeds never before available in the Territory and at a reasonable cost; further contribute to the economic growth and economic stability of the Territory; and become and remain competitive. In other words, viNGN is not an ISP, a cellular telephone company, a local exchange carrier or the like and is not competing with these types of entities. viNGN has built a wholesale broadband network which is open to all ISPs and other broadband service providers and is available throughout the Territory.”
Given that the territory is ranked last in the nation in speed and accessibility of high speed broadband services, and because of the slow speeds, limited coverage and high prices being offered in the U.S. Virgin Islands relative to those of the rest of the mainland, the other territories and much of the rest of the world, the entire territory has been defined as underserved or un-served under federal guidelines. “With the completion of our 100% fiber optic, open access, wholesale broadband network and the large number of local ISPs that have signed agreements to buy services from viNGN on our wholesale broadband network, viNGN has met three of the key objectives of President Barak Obama’s National Broadband Plan and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), i.e. to encourage competition, to improve broadband speeds and to provide open access to all providers. Given these successes, we hope that the Virgin Islands will move up from its last place position in the nation in terms of ranked U.S. broadband speeds and access and, in the process, put in place the platform to achieve our economic diversification and opportunities for growth in a competitive environment,” Kupfer explained.
Just as important, Kupfer noted was the value of the investments that have been made by the federal and local governments in the viNGN networks. “ISPs and other retail providers are now able to provide cheaper, faster, more reliable, and more accessible telecommunication services, including internet, phone and video services, to their government, business and residential customers, if they enter into agreements with viNGN and offer services on viNGN’s network. Also as a result of viNGN, the ISPs’ customers will be able to enjoy more telecommunication options and, hopefully within a short time, at lower costs, depending upon the offerings that are made available by the ISPs and other retail providers to their customers.”
Kupfer explained to senators that the potential uses and benefits of the new high speed, open access infrastructure are nearly limitless. “The Territory is also now positioned to realize a great number of benefits as our faster, more reliable, open access network is being made available, including the obvious economic development realities and future possibilities; more effective means to attract e-commerce and other technology-driven jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities; the assets to create opportunities for small businesses by removing barriers to entry for smaller companies and entrepreneurs who want to start a business; the means to create new jobs; better positioning of the Territory and its residents to move into the digital age and to move the Territory’s economy into the 21st Century with the rest of the world; expansion of global reach; improved global competitiveness, especially as all parts of the territory are being connected to each other, enabling users to make full use of digital technology, as they will have access to reliable, high speed connectivity; improved ability to take full advantage of the ever-expanding online/distance learning educational opportunities, as our public and private schools and the University of the Virgin Islands will have the bandwidth capacity to expand instruction beyond the physical confines of the classroom and educate a next generation of students ready for the workplace of the 21st Century; the infrastructure to support national and local efforts to expand Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education; the tools to advance important initiatives in health care, including the ability of health care providers to deliver vastly improved telemedicine coverage and digital/electronic medical records technology and to comply with new Medicare and Medicaid reporting requirements; improvements in cell phone service; enhanced disaster preparedness; the tools to significantly improve local public safety initiatives for police, fire, VITEMA and other first responders to respond to crime, disasters and other emergencies; the network of assets to implement WAPA’s planned Smart Grid system to track and manage electrical consumption in real time and provide greater energy efficiency; improved digital literacy and work readiness skills of the Territory’s residents; and the list goes on.
In addition to the build out of the actual broadband network, viNGN has invested more than $6 million directly in the territory’s people and communities. “viNGN has expanded access to computers, the internet and Digital Literacy and other training programs throughout the Territory, all for free to all U.S. Virgin Islands residents.
We have now opened the twenty-eight (28) grant-required Public Computer Centers (PCCs) across the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, in partnership with public libraries, public housing communities, local community organizations, and other local government departments and agencies. Through the PCCs, we are offering free access to computers and related equipment, Digital Literacy and other training, and the internet to the public, so that all U.S. Virgin Islands residents have access to resources to learn to use a computer and access the internet for research, job searches, starting a business, tele-work, online courses, homework support, SAT preparation — the list is endless. All of these services are being offered for free through viNGN’s partnerships, as long as they are beneficial to the communities that they serve and as long as funding is made available to viNGN and its partners. To date, more than 3,000 residents have accessed our free Digital Literacy and, in some cases, our free IT, business management, SAT Prep, ACT Prep and many other higher-tiered courses, either through our PCCs and/or other locations where residents had internet access. viNGN continues to encourage residents to take advantage of the free PCCs and free training and to increase their use of broadband technologies, and I am pleased to report that this free training has been extended to September 30, 2014.”
He also addressed the effect that the broadband network build-out and development has had. “I think that it is important for all of us to remember that the grants we are managing have one unifying purpose and that purpose is to help to drive the Territory’s economic and social development by making significant investments in broadband infrastructure; expanding the Territory’s global reach; improving the digital literacy and work readiness skills of its residents; attracting e-commerce and other technology-driven jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities; encouraging broadband adoption; and, better positioning the Territory and its residents to move into the digital age.”
This is what was envisioned by President Obama when the nation’s Broadband Initiative was created and funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). This is why Governor de Jongh ensured our participation in the BTOP and the legislative support has been so critical to our furtherance of these objectives. President Obama’s vision is to build a nationwide broadband network; to provide broadband education to the citizens of the United States; to provide the basis for sustained economic growth by creating new jobs and industries; to provide consumers with new sources of information; to enhance the nation’s safety and security; and, to connect communities around the nation and the world.
(USVI Government House blog – http://www.governordejongh.com/blog/2014/06/vingn-update.html)