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August 18, 2010

Recovery in Action: $59 Million for Broadband Development

On Tuesday night, Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. was notified that the Office of Economic Opportunity under the V.I. Public Finance Authority had been awarded approximately $59 million in federal funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to design and construct an advanced broadband network for the Virgin Islands. 

Listen to the Governor's Comments .mp3 (4MB)

The project will construct an underground fiber ring network on the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas and an aerial network on the island of St. John. These networks will be connected through existing fiber cables to each other and further interconnected to the U.S. mainland through existing submarine fiber cables. “Over 300 miles of new fiber cables will be laid in this project,” said Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) Director Julito A. Francis. This will truly be an advanced broadband network once the project is fully constructed, and it will maintain its edge with new technological developments due to the interconnection with the mainland,” he added.

Once the local match of in-kind and cash are added, the project will total over $120 million in economic development in the territory over this next three years. The project will create over 200 jobs during its implementation phase and will help spur economic development in the territory for generations to come, by attracting businesses—and creating jobs—in the high technology and financial sectors that depend heavily on reliable advanced high speed telecommunications to interconnect their offices worldwide. It will also be a boon to the Virgin Islanders who want to start a home-based Internet business or simply want to connect to the World Wide Web at high data rates.

In addition, the project will further advance initiatives in education, healthcare, public safety, and emergency first responders by interconnecting all of these offices with fiber cables and data rates that are at least 1,000 times faster than speeds currently available in the Virgin Islands. The network, once completed, will provide wholesale advanced telecommunications services to local private telecommunications providers and spur competition in the local telecommunications sector, leading to lower prices for higher data rates and improved services.

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority is a partner with the Office of Economic Opportunity in this effort and will provide in-kind contributions of conduit and pole space for the expeditious laying of the fiber network, which truly made the project “shovel ready” in the NTIA review. In exchange for its in-kind contributions, WAPA will receive access to fiber strands that will assist it in completing its smart-grid initiative as well as share in the wholesale revenues generated by the new broadband entity. “This is truly a win-win for WAPA to participate as a partner in this project, as it will allow the authority to diversify its revenue base as well as improve WAPA’s network serviceability and reliability to its customers, said Executive Director Hugo Hodge, Jr. 

De Jongh said Wednesday that the ARRA award will be officially presented within the next few weeks by a representative of the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA) under its Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program (BTOP). “In winning this award, the Virgin Islands’ project was successful against thousands of other proposals submitted to the NTIA for funding under the ARRA. By the end of September 2010, the NTIA is expected to award $7 billion in funding to only the best projects submitted for the states and U.S. territories.”

The governor said today that this award will now begin the process of implementing the territory’s telecommunications strategy that his administration envisioned over 15 months ago when a business round table was first held on St. Croix with all telecommunications providers and formed the broadband alliance of private sector businesses and public agencies. He congratulated all persons involved on the vision, the hard work, and now the execution in winning this highly competitive award in particular the OEO under the leadership of Julito Francis. “The success of your efforts will benefit all Virgin Islanders and will truly be a game-changer. On behalf of our community—great job and well done,” deJongh said in an email to all persons involved in the territory’s successful application for this grant.

This grant is one of four other ARRA grants totaling over $68 million for which the OEO has submitted applications to the NTIA for funding. The other three will cover interrelated projects, including: (i) State Broadband Data Development grant, which the OEO has already been awarded, for mapping of the existing telecommunications infrastructure and capabilities in the territory, and two projects for which OEO has pending applications before NTIA for (ii) the development of public computer centers that will provide access primarily to the underserved, under-educated, and the elderly population, and (iii) the development of a sustainable broadband adoption program that will provide education and training about the capabilities of broadband for everyday use and economic development for business creation to the underserved, under-educated, and the elderly population. “All together, these projects and programs will represent over $140 million of economic development for the territory for the next three years and generate new revenues for the Virgin Islands at a time when we ensure both economic diversification and job opportunities,” de Jongh said.

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