A federal grant program has approved Virgin Islands Next Generation Network’s plan to spend grant funds for the broadband initiative, and will sign contracts Friday to begin work, said viNGN board members at Thursday’s meeting at Havensight Mall.
The state broadband initiative is funded from a development grant, viNGN Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Kupfer said, adding that a contract drafted in February was eventually approved. The goal is to sign that contract on Friday and to have people on site next week for a series of kick-off meetings, he said.
The broadband initiative is an ongoing project designed to offer more reliable and cheaper Internet service to the territory. Several other projects contribute to the broadband expansion to not only give residents better service, but also to educate them. The data will be part of the national broadband map.
There will be some changes in the engineering design in terms of beach manholes associated with new undersea cables between St. Croix and St. Thomas. Next Generation has started to move ahead with the permitting process.
The viNGN board has put out a request for proposals for construction to begin work on super Fiber Access Point sites between St. Thomas and St. Croix. They will also begin work on aerial networks on St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix. Ideally, viNGN will contract with one company for all three islands.
Next Generation predicts the network will be complete by end of February 2013. It does not yet have construction RFPs or construction awards. Board members hope to pick companies within the next 60 days with 30 days for RFPs and releasing the contract. The board estimated two weeks for aerial and two to three weeks for trenching.
Preferably trenching on each island will go on simultaneously, board members said. Requests for proposals are needed for construction work and also for some of the materials. Next Generation has ordered fibers and equipment, but now needs aerial and underground material as well as software systems.
Board member Peter Schultz said viNGN should receive all remaining cable by the end of August with ample time to do construction, he promised.
The board expects submarine cables to be installed by the end of the first quarter of next year. It is currently waiting on approval by Army Corps of Engineers. If the trenching is done in parallels, the project will likely be finished earlier, said Kupfer. Worst case scenario, viNGN is still within the time limits, he noted.
There will be 325 anchor institutions in the network; about 150 on both St. Thomas and St. Croix as well as 25 to 30 on St. John.
There is already a contract for construction of submarine networks with Alcatel-Lucent, a global telecommunications equipment corporation, which was previously chosen to work with viNGN on the cable from St. Thomas to Water Island. After installation of the additional conduits, future customers can feed other networks through the state broadband network.
“This is an opportunity for long-haul relations,” Kupfer said.
Communications from North America to South America often need a landing site midway to make signals stronger. Alcatel-Lucent will assist in expanding and adding more manholes and conduits. Next Generation will pay nothing out of pocket, the board said.
In relation to the broadband projects, board members discussed sustainable broadband contracts with CyberLearning, a computer information technology training company, and BetterWorld, a nationwide data service provider, which will allow 2,500 adults and students to train using the broadband network.
CyberLearning is waiting for viNGN to ready sites for cables and other installation. The other company, BetterWorld, held a town hall meeting to discuss the concept of hubs, where digital or internet-based companies can utilize spaces in one building, Kupfer said. A location for the St. Thomas hub is still in the works.