Work on the Virgin Islands Next Generation Network has reached the next level and contractors for the broadband project will be hiring at least 25 new construction employees for the work, network President Lawrence Kupfer said in a telephone news conference Monday evening.
The network, known as viNGN, is a government program to build a high-speed, fiber optic "middle mile" network in the territory. The wholly public corporation has been funded primarily from a grant by the National Telecommunications Information Administration as part of a federal program to improve the broadband capacity in the territories.
Trenching began in November, with crews from contractors GEC on St. Croix and Island Roads Corp. on St. Thomas laying the groundwork for installing the actual hardware.
On Monday Kupfer said the actual fiber optics will begin being "pulled" into underground ducting and connected to utility poles this week.
Contractor All Rounders Systems LLC, the company which installed the photovoltaic solar power system at the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas, will be installing the fiber cable in existing conduit owned by the V.I. Water and Power Authority, which is a partner in the viNGN project, Kupfer said.
The contractor has already conducted 146 interviews with prospective employees. During Monday’s press conference, Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan said the company would hire at least 25 people for the installation of the cable. Kupfer added that the company has been awarded a contract for additional work, so that number may rise.
Kupfer said All Rounders teams will each be made of 12 workers – four from off-island and eight locals. Beyond knowing that there will be at least one on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix, he did not know how many people All Rounders would hire.
The job hopefuls were interviewed at a job fair organized by the Department of Labor.
According to Kupfer, the viNGN "middle mile" will have "almost unlimited bandwidth" and high speed because it will be all fiber optic.
Individual Internet users will not get service directly from the network, Kupfer explained. Local Internet service providers, ISPs, will be able to contract for a slice of the network’s bandwidth, which they will then use to provide high-speed service to their customers.
"We’re a wholesaler. We’re not selling to individual customers," Kupfer said. "We sell bandwidth to ISPs. If you want internet service, you go to the ISP."
The system will be linked to the rest of the world through the Global Crossing data center on the western end of St. Croix. The viNGN network has leased bandwidth on two of the company’s cables, one connecting to Miami and one to Manhattan. In the case one fails, service will automatically switch to the other, Kupfer said.
Kupfer said viNGN’s system will be entirely fiber optic and is independent of systems being installed or contemplated by any other service providers in the territory. He said the system would be unaffected by rumors that a major telecommunications company has expressed interest in purchasing the V.I. Telephone Co, VITELCO, now known as Innovative Communications.
Kupfer said that, when completed, the viNGN network would be made of 25,000 miles of fiber optic cable, enough to wrap around the Earth.
More than $32 million in contracts have been awarded for construction of the system, with an additional $3.4 million still to be awarded, he said.
Bryan said the system would make the territory a more attractive destination for high tech businesses, especially when coupled with Economic Development Authority programs. He said classes being offered now at computer centers in the territory will prepare workers for a variety of jobs.