The territory’s $117 million federally funded V.I. Next Generation Network (viNGN) high-speed internet expansion is behind schedule, but is back on track to ramp-up spending heavily in 2012 and finish by June 2013, viNGN’s interim CEO Alfred Boschulte told the Legislature in oversight hearings last week.
The federal government temporarily suspended the massive infrastructure project in August, citing concerns over how the project was being overseen. It lifted the suspension in October, and one week later, the viNGN board fired then-CEO Julito Francis. Since then, the board has begun putting grants managers and other crucial oversight personnel in place, he said.
“I am here to assure all here and all listening, the restart of this program is currently well under way,” Boschulte said to the Committee on Economic Development, Technology and Agriculture Friday. At the same time, he acknowledged the work is not as far along as initially planned.
"Clearly we had looked to spend the bulk of the funds in 2011 and that didn’t happen," Boschulte said. By the end of the year, perhaps $15 million will have been spent, he said. "Far less than we would wish for but … large amounts will shift to 2012," he said.
"You expect to have it up in 18 months? Is that overly ambitious?" asked Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson.
"It is challenging, but not overly ambitious," Boschulte said. The project will call for multiple construction projects on all three major U.S. Virgin Islands to begin and proceed simultaneously, and some parts may require crews to field day shifts and night shifts to finish on time, however, he said.
Nelson asked what the money spent so far had been used for. A lot went for fiber optic cable, which "is extremely expensive right now," Boschulte said. Money has also been spent on surveying, engineering, system design and other preliminary work, he said. Much of the trenching will come next year. Work has begun on several big concrete facilities with environmental controls to house the main fiber optic connectors and other equipment, he said.
The network will have another 32 smaller, but still very large concrete boxes, with fiber coming in and out and environmental controls. Work should start on those in January and finish two months later, he said.
"There will be lots of work at the beginning," he said. "It will be very visible, will require work at night and will have to start in multiple locations on our islands simultaneously," Boschulte said. "We have 18 months to go… everything we were doing we not only have to do it faster we have to do it smarter," he said.
While the federal government recently lifted its temporary suspension of funds for the project, the top priority remains implementing the viNGN corrective action plan’s enhanced controls, procedures and processes, Boschulte said.
The scope of the project remains the same as it was before the temporary suspension: laying terrestrial, undersea and aerial cable. The architecture of the fiber optic cables has been established, material shipments have started, the logical design of the network remains unchanged, and viNGN still anticipates completion of the “middle mile” fiber network by June 2013.
In 2010, the territory won four grants through the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The V.I. Legislature approved issuing a $38 million bond as a required matching contribution in April to enable the public/private partnership to deliver significantly faster Internet service than is currently available in the territory.