Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. presided over his first meeting of the Board of Directors of the Virgin Islands Next Generation Network, Inc. (viNGN) on Tuesday, May 14 at the offices of the Public Finance Authority on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
The meeting was heard live via telephonic conference line. viNGN CEO Dr. H. Mark McGibbon gave an overview of the middle-mile network that sells high-speed internet at wholesale prices to local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who sell to the retail market: businesses, organizations, government and residents. Below is his address:
The first order of business today is the welcoming of our new viNGN Board of Directors’ Chairman, Governor Albert Bryan. We look forward to working alongside you to continue to improve the viNGN municipality network for the people of the Virgin Islands.
Since September 2017, viNGN team members have worked long and dedicated hours in an effort to the restore the viNGN 100% fiber optic broadband internet middle-mile network.
Our viNGN team goes beyond viNGN employees and the viNGN Board of Directors. It extends to our multiple restoration contractors, our suppliers, and naturally, our ISP partners, who all share a part in ensuring broadband internet bandwidth reaches homes, businesses and government organizations.
Similar to other middle-mile networks located throughout the U.S. states and Territories, viNGN, is simply a transport network that brings broadband internet bandwidth to several local internet service providers (ISPs). viNGN and other middle-mile semi-autonomous agencies were established via the federal and local governments in order to provide a great service in reaching the unserved, underserved, and economically disadvantaged communities throughout the USVI, other territories and the continental United States.
We must give President Barack Obama great credit in understanding the almost $1T Rural Broadband Internet problem that faced our nation when he first took office. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, President Obama allocated and obligated Federal funds to all 50 States and 6 territories to build middle-mile broadband internet networks, to help last-mile internet service providers or ISPs reach government organizations, businesses and the homes of millions of Americans.
Within this board room, we must also credit Dr. Peter Schultz, in his efforts and assistance in applying for and receiving 4 Federal grants for the USVI to build a 100% fiber optic broadband internet network known as the viNGN.
As a result of these federal grants, which were matched with in-kind and local bonds, at least a dozen new last-mile ISP companies were formed to help distribute broadband internet throughout the USVI, which in turn helped create hundreds of new high-tech jobs, helped collect more tax dollars for the USVI, helped support other businesses that house, provide supplies and maintain the ISP businesses and their employees.
Since viNGN’s first ISP customer in September of 2014, viNGN has helped bring the extremely low internet speeds, or specifically at only 1.5 Mbps, the slowest when ranked against the 50 States and 5 other territories to true FCC broadband internet speeds of 25 Mbps downloads and 3 Mbps uploads. In just 5 short years, viNGN has helped thousands of Virgin Islanders to bridge the “digital divide” through its cyber literacy workshops, as well as help the ISPs offer more affordable internet to the people of the VI. Now more residents living in the USVI have high speed internet services within their homes.
Internet prices are higher compared to U.S. mainland Internet prices; however, I would like everyone to understand why. It costs money to ship food to the USVI. It also costs money to transport the internet bandwidth from redundant undersea cables from the United States to the USVI. To maintain the viNGN network, it requires a team of highly-skilled professionals on St. Thomas and St. Croix. viNGN must also ensure it has millions of dollars in inventory on-hand in the event of another hurricane.
Nevertheless, viNGN still provides reliable high-speed Wi-Fi internet in strategic public locations throughout the USVI at no charge. Yes, viNGN, which operates like a business, and does not receive an annual budget from the USVI taxpayer dollars, offering free Wi-Fi because we feel it’s our moral obligation to help our community.
Finally, I would like to conclude today’s public discussion with a topic that has been in the newspapers lately. You may have heard about the “One Dig” policy that is being reintroduced in the USVI Legislature. Let me be clear, as the viNGN President and CEO, I fully support the “One Dig” policy. viNGN is not in favor of legislation that doesn’t really address a One Dig policy and would ultimately harm the territory’s progress in expanding affordable broadband internet throughout the Territory. Like most pieces of legislation, there are parts that could use improvement to ensure an outstanding piece of legislation is enacted.
In this vein, I am committed to ensuring the legislation will cover the necessary elements to a “One Dig” policy for the USVI. Because viNGN has a public and business responsibility to ensure the One Dig policy is just that, “One Dig” for trenching for sewage pipes, drainage pipes, water pipes, electrical and telecommunications conduits to minimize inconvenience to the public. viNGN will assist and cooperate to ensure no harm comes to the public or their services. We welcome all last mile ISP providers in burying their last-mile infrastructure in conduits to prevent future damage from storms.
viNGN is 100% behind the legislation that addresses a One Dig policy. We also want viNGN’s entire middle-mile network to remain separate from the last mile and buried so that viNGN’s last mile customers can continue to connect to this middle-mile network and distribute the internet to their last-mile customers. This is critically important especially since we live in a hurricane prone location. The more infrastructures we can bury makes sense.
Dr. McGibbon went on to thank all present and dialed in, and released the floor to the Chairman of the viNGN Board of Directors, Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr.