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Senator Blyden: Properly Working Internet And Telephone Services Are A Lifeline In The Islands

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications met to hear testimony on the status and future of telecommunications services in the territory today.

Committee Chair, Senator Marvin Blyden, underscored the importance of telecommunications in connecting the territory within its borders and to the rest of the world.

“From banking to e-commerce to government services to the simple ability to communicate with loved ones abroad, modern life is dependent on efficient, accessible and affordable telecommunications,” Blyden said. “This is particularly important for us in the Virgin Islands because of our geographical isolation. It is not an exaggeration to say that for us, properly functioning internet and telephone services are a lifeline.”

In his testimony, Virgin Islands Next Generation Network’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Mark McGibbon, was not shy about sharing many of viNGN’s accomplishments since 2014, one of the more notable accomplishments being significantly higher internet speeds offered by local internet service providers (ISPs) at lower prices.

President and CEO McGibbon stated that “viNGN helped bring faster internet speeds into the Territory at lower prices, has directly or indirectly created jobs, served as a key economic developer, provided free cyber-learning digital literacy courses, and equipped US Virgin Islanders with the ability to connect to the internet in areas that were underserved or not being served at all with internet.”

ViNGN’s fiber optic network, according to its President and CEO, is poised to transform the Virgin Islands through many services soon to be offered. Beyond allowing ISPs to provide internet to users, the network can allow for the transport of different technologies such as wireless 5G, entertainment and phone services over the internet, as well as telemedicine, telework, Smart Classroom and other Smart City initiatives.

Following viNGN, Acting Director of the Bureau of Information Technology (BIT) and Chief Information Officer for the Government of the United States Virgin Islands, Angelo Riddick, updated the Committee.

BIT will host meetings scheduled for April 3 and 4 to kick-off the plan to implement an integrated public safety solution that includes modern-day Computer Aided Dispatch Services and Record Management Systems for the Territory’s dispatch centers, Police and Fire departments, Bureau of Corrections and Emergency Medical Services.

This solution will create a streamlined workflow across agencies and a single-source database of live, accurate, and accessible data.

Spillman Technologies, a subsidiary of Motorola, was awarded a $3.75 million contract to complete the project and anticipates an 18-month implementation timeline.  

Geraldine Pitt, CEO of Viya, outlined that there have been many challenges in restoring service throughout the territory, including lack of access to shipping materials from the mainland and service-affecting fiber cuts brought on by other contractors excavating various locations.

However, she stated that VIYA still forged ahead to restore much needed services to include some recent projects. For example, restoration and expansion work have begun on critical Coral Bay areas including Emmaus and Sea Grape Hill.

A network build-out will also bring high-speed internet access to Peter Bay and Maho Bay. New and improved services will also be coming to Little Plantation, Lower Carolina, Upper Carolina, Freeman’s Ground and Saunder’s Gut.

Furthermore, CEO Pitt called upon the 33rd Legislature to reconsider “dig once” legislation “as soon as possible to ensure that Viya and all other critical infrastructure organizations have the opportunity to become more resilient.”

In his testimony, Lawrence J. Kupfer, Executive Director and CEO of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority, stated that over the next three to five years, 350 miles of new underground facilities will be realized territory-wide. This hardening of WAPA’s facilities will provide for the installation of spare conduits for use by telecommunication providers. 

“The Authority’s goal with these mitigation projects is to provide underground service from our distribution points to 50 percent of our customers’ meter bases, which simultaneously boost opportunities and reliability factors for current or new telecommunication service providers,” he said.

Senators Novelle E. Francis, Kenneth L. Gittens, Myron D. Jackson, Javan James and Janelle K. Sarauw were present at Thursday’s hearing. Non-committee members, Oakland Benta, Donna Frett-Gregory and Kurt A. Vialet, were also in attendance.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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