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Suspension Lifted on Broadband Funding, Officials Announce

V.I. Next Generation Network officials announced Tuesday that the federal government’s temporary freeze on critical broadband funding has been lifted.

The V.I. Next Generation Network (viNGN) oversees the territory’s broadband initiative, which is being funded in large part by a series of federal grants through the National Telecommunication Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). During a meeting two months ago, viNGN board chairman Gov. John deJongh Jr. said that the broadband initiative is subject to a grants administrative audit, which was conducted in June.

A letter outlining the findings was submitted to viNGN’s parent company, the Public Finance Authority, on Aug. 31, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and an emergency session of the viNGN board was held to respond to their call for a corrective action plan, and to put together a team that would help develop one. DeJongh said the federal government was looking to have more formal procedures in place and more personnel, which board members have been focusing on.

At last month’s viNGN meeting, the board announced that it would be fast tracking its corrective action plan and putting in place other measures, including a two-phase approval process for vendor payments, which begins with a review from viNGN advisors Winston and Strawn before being forwarded to the NTIA to get their "concurrence" on any payments. Board member Alfred Boschulte was also voted to be the head of viNGN’s new Business Operations Committee, whose purpose is to oversee and implement the corrective action plan while working with advisors from the NTIA.

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During a conference call Tuesday, PFA Executive Director Angel Dawson said that he had received a letter from the U.S. Commerce Department saying that the corrective action plan had been accepted, and the suspension of the grants lifted. Since the Senate has not yet overridden the governor’s veto of a recent bill to freeze the local matching funds needed for the project, viNGN is now set to meet their June 2013 deadline, he said.

There still needs to be some review and tightening of the schedules for the project’s various components, but Boschulte, who was also on the conference call, said he is not worried at this point about any delays to the final end date.

Both Boschulte and Dawson discussed several corrective measures being taken, including the hiring of new staff. Mentioned during the conference call was Michael Daniel, who will come on at viNGN as the vice president of grant administration and program management, and Boschulte added that others – including a chief financial officer – will also soon be coming on board.

“There were some 22, or 23 areas addressed in the response, including: program management, which looks at both the organizational structure of the PFA and viNGN; financial management issues particularly with regards to various fiscal controls that were strengthened; and program income requirements that needed to be further clarified,” Dawson said. He also said that a new director of the Office of Economic Opportunity has been hired and “specifically” charged with “closely monitoring viNGN.”

In the letter to Dawson, National Institute of Standards and Technology Division Chief Usha Ganti wrote, “…our review of your response confirms that you have met the technical requirements of the CAP [corrective action plan] response submission by addressing all points of inquiry. As a result, the Grants Office intends to lift the unilateral stop work amendment effective immediately so you may resume work on your…projects.”

The letter also said that federal officials will be following up with the PFA and viNGN on any additional concerns. Boschulte said Tuesday, that while the letter does not detail what the additional concerns are, viNGN hopes to “preemptively” meet with them and discuss the project’s schedules and plans.

In the news release Tuesday, deJongh called the announcement “tremendous news.”

“This is tremendous news with respect to the four grants and the team that is in place for the execution of each project to achieve the broadband infrastructure so critical for us to be a competitive destination,” he said. “I was always confident that our team would draft a plan to address our initial setbacks [and] meet all the requirements necessary to resume the work these four grants were intended to fund. This continues the overall endorsement of our federal partners in our approach and belief that the investment is needed in the Virgin Islands.”

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V.I. Next Generation Network officials announced Tuesday that the federal government’s temporary freeze on critical broadband funding has been lifted.

The V.I. Next Generation Network (viNGN) oversees the territory's broadband initiative, which is being funded in large part by a series of federal grants through the National Telecommunication Information Administration's (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). During a meeting two months ago, viNGN board chairman Gov. John deJongh Jr. said that the broadband initiative is subject to a grants administrative audit, which was conducted in June.

A letter outlining the findings was submitted to viNGN's parent company, the Public Finance Authority, on Aug. 31, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and an emergency session of the viNGN board was held to respond to their call for a corrective action plan, and to put together a team that would help develop one. DeJongh said the federal government was looking to have more formal procedures in place and more personnel, which board members have been focusing on.

At last month’s viNGN meeting, the board announced that it would be fast tracking its corrective action plan and putting in place other measures, including a two-phase approval process for vendor payments, which begins with a review from viNGN advisors Winston and Strawn before being forwarded to the NTIA to get their "concurrence" on any payments. Board member Alfred Boschulte was also voted to be the head of viNGN’s new Business Operations Committee, whose purpose is to oversee and implement the corrective action plan while working with advisors from the NTIA.

During a conference call Tuesday, PFA Executive Director Angel Dawson said that he had received a letter from the U.S. Commerce Department saying that the corrective action plan had been accepted, and the suspension of the grants lifted. Since the Senate has not yet overridden the governor’s veto of a recent bill to freeze the local matching funds needed for the project, viNGN is now set to meet their June 2013 deadline, he said.

There still needs to be some review and tightening of the schedules for the project’s various components, but Boschulte, who was also on the conference call, said he is not worried at this point about any delays to the final end date.

Both Boschulte and Dawson discussed several corrective measures being taken, including the hiring of new staff. Mentioned during the conference call was Michael Daniel, who will come on at viNGN as the vice president of grant administration and program management, and Boschulte added that others – including a chief financial officer – will also soon be coming on board.

“There were some 22, or 23 areas addressed in the response, including: program management, which looks at both the organizational structure of the PFA and viNGN; financial management issues particularly with regards to various fiscal controls that were strengthened; and program income requirements that needed to be further clarified,” Dawson said. He also said that a new director of the Office of Economic Opportunity has been hired and “specifically” charged with “closely monitoring viNGN.”

In the letter to Dawson, National Institute of Standards and Technology Division Chief Usha Ganti wrote, “…our review of your response confirms that you have met the technical requirements of the CAP [corrective action plan] response submission by addressing all points of inquiry. As a result, the Grants Office intends to lift the unilateral stop work amendment effective immediately so you may resume work on your…projects.”

The letter also said that federal officials will be following up with the PFA and viNGN on any additional concerns. Boschulte said Tuesday, that while the letter does not detail what the additional concerns are, viNGN hopes to “preemptively” meet with them and discuss the project’s schedules and plans.

In the news release Tuesday, deJongh called the announcement “tremendous news.”

“This is tremendous news with respect to the four grants and the team that is in place for the execution of each project to achieve the broadband infrastructure so critical for us to be a competitive destination,” he said. “I was always confident that our team would draft a plan to address our initial setbacks [and] meet all the requirements necessary to resume the work these four grants were intended to fund. This continues the overall endorsement of our federal partners in our approach and belief that the investment is needed in the Virgin Islands.”