V.I. Next Generation Network on track to finish broadband system in 2 weeks

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Next Generation Network has two weeks to complete the territory's fiber-optic network, and according to network officials, they will meet that deadline.

V.I. Next Generation Network President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Kupfer said of the 318 anchor institutions on the network, 258 are physically connected to the network and 111 of those have been tested and are ready to receive Internet through an Internet service provider.

Anchor institutions will tie in directly to the network. Under the federal grant award, anchor tenants include all schools, universities, government offices, community centers, health care centers, some doctors' offices and public safety and first-responder entities.

The V.I. Water and Power Authority has energized all but two of the territory's 24 fiber access points, Kupfer said.

The network comprises two super fiber access points - air-conditioned concrete structures filled with equipment - to act as substations or distribution centers for the fiber-optic network. One is located in Frederiksted, St. Croix, and one is next to the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency building on St. Thomas. They will be the first stopping place for fiber-optic cables coming directly from the mainland.

From the two main hubs, the fiber network will be sent out to about 24 smaller fiber access points.

The last two of the regular fiber access points - one by Schneider Hospital and one at the West Indian Co. - will be powered by WAPA once the contractor installs a pad-mounted transformer at each site. The rest are finished and "lit" or connected to the Internet.

Kupfer said that at this point, each island - St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix - is connected to the new broadband network, a major milestone of the project.

Kupfer said to comply with the requirements of the federal grant, the network must bring all anchor institutions through the testing phase, where they are ready to connect to an ISP and receive Internet. They do not have to actually go through that last step of getting service to be considered complete under the federal requirements, Kupfer said.

"Under the grant, we're required to put in the equipment and prove that it's connected to the Internet," Kupfer said. "Them finding an ISP is outside the grant."

About 50 anchor institutions have gotten the green light to seek an agreement with an ISP, Kupfer said. About eight already have and are accessing the new broadband network directly.

Kupfer told the V.I. Next Generation Network board members that the St. Croix office of the agency has been connected and the employees are enjoying the high speed Internet.

"We are getting about 88 megabits per second, which is pretty incredible speed," Kupfer said.

Kupfer said he had the regular biweekly conference call with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the federal granting agency, and they are pleased with the project's progress.

"They see that we are in good shape, and they are happy with the progress that we've been making," Kupfer said.

In other business, Kupfer said that the grant to provide free computer courses through contractor CyberLearning was extended from May 30, the original end date of the program, to Sept. 30.

The board also approved two procurement contracts at Wednesday's meeting: a $107,727 contract to purchase communication installation materials from MSI Building Supplies; and a $555,468.75 contract to Marshal & Sterling for property insurance and $15,112.5 for liability insurance.

The V.I. Next Generation Network is a subsidiary of the V.I. Public Finance Authority and was created to build and operate the territory's first public broadband network.

The $117 million broadband expansion project is funded by four federal stimulus grants awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration - a division of the U.S. Commerce Department.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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