V.I.'s broadband network nears completion; public computer centers open
Published: May 16, 2014
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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Next Generation Network is nearing the end of construction on the territory's first open broadband network and officials say the government entity will meet its federal deadlines.
Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kevin Hughes told the network's board Thursday that 28 public computer centers are now open and operating territorywide, fulfilling the requirement set by the federal government.
"We met our goal, but VINGN is going to open some additional sites," Hughes said.
Under the Public Computer Centers grant, the requirement was for 28 centers, but the agency is planning to open 31.
The centers are operated by nonprofit groups and government agencies, with equipment provided through the federally funded broadband project.
The territory received a $3 million federal grant to build more than two dozen public computer centers to bring broadband access to people who might not be able to afford Internet service. With a local match of about $1.4 million, the funding totals $4.4 million.
The computer center locations are listed on the network's website, www.vingn.com.
One component of the grant is a partnership with the National Educational Foundation's Cyber Learning digital literacy program. Hughes said under the training program, 3,090 accounts were opened and 1,777 people completed the basic digital learning course. He said many who completed the digital literacy course went on to take and complete other free courses, some of which led to certifications.
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.
The Sustainable Broadband Adoption grant is designed to provide community outreach and training. The federal grant is $2.5 million and the total earmarked for the program is $3.6 million with some local funding as well.
The V.I. Next Generation Network contracted BetterWorld to offer free training and job placement for people interested in telework, or working from home on the Internet.
Hughes said that contract has expired, but the agency is looking for ways to continue to foster telework opportunities in the territory.
The State Broadband Initiative/State Broadband Data and Development grant is for broadband mapping and data collection. The $3 million federal grant - $3.8 million total with in-kind contributions - is helping the territory develop a plan for an territorial address system and improving the technology used by first responders.
Hughes said they are continuing to map out the territory's available broadband speeds and coverage, and work with the V.I. Water and Power Authority to develop a smart grid system. The agency is working with the Lt. Governor's Office to map the territory, which will allow for a GPS system to work in the territory.
The grant continues until next January and can be extended another month, according to Hughes.
The Comprehensive Community Infrastructure grant is the largest award - $58.8 million - and funds the actual construction of the network. With local funds and in-kind contributions, such as the use of existing V.I. Water and Power Authority conduits to run fiber through, the total cost of building the network is about $88.2 million.
The deadline for construction to be complete is June 30, and V.I. Next Generation Network President and Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Kupfer said the agency is on target to meet that deadline.
The backbone of the network is complete, as are the fiber access points, and every one of the 316 anchor institutions is connected, Kupfer said.
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 and public safety and first-responder entities.
WAPA is energizing each fiber access point now.
"We're working very closely with WAPA," Kupfer said. "Eight of 24 FAPS have power, and I think by tomorrow or the end of the week, the majority of those FAPS will have power."
More than 30 anchor institutions have been given the OK to sign up with an Internet service provider and begin receiving service, and at least eight have already done so, according to Kupfer.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.