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Territory to Get $8 Million to Improve Broadband

The territory will be getting two more federal stimulus grants worth $8.1 million to help promote better broadband services, access and education, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced Monday.
“In a globalized 21st century economy, when you don’t have regular access to high-speed Internet, you don’t have access to all the educational, business and employment opportunities it provides,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement announcing 35 different grants across the nation. “These critical Recovery Act investments will create jobs and lay the groundwork for long-term sustainable economic growth in communities across America.”
The V.I. Public Finance Authority applied for these particular grants as part of Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s plan to expand the territory’s broadband initiatives, according to a statement from Government House. The funds join another $59 million from two federal broadband grants awarded last month.
“Our success with all four … broadband grants is a tremendous endorsement of our plan to transform the Virgin Islands to an improved information technology infrastructure,” deJongh said Monday. “The awarded monies ensure that a broad range of our community has broadband access, while also building job opportunities and economic diversification for our small businesses.”
One of the two grants announced today is a Comprehensive Community Infrastructure award of $3 million, with an additional $1.4 million in matching contributions, and the other is a Sustainable Broadband Adoption award of $2.5 million, with an additional $1.2 million in matching contributions. Both grants will help fund some of the same projects and will aim to:
— Increase broadband subscribership and, through the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research, measure and report on this increase and business uptake in the territory’s broadband sector;
— Stimulate economic growth through public awareness campaigns;
— Expand digital literacy and broadband technology job skills in throughout the territory;
— Develop a call center job bank to provide assistance and training for job seekers with new information technology skills;
— Establish and upgrade more than 40 public computer centers;
— Provide access to: more than 700 new computer workstations, computer literacy training, HD teleconferencing capabilities, and other technology services for small businesses;
— Deploy 420 new workstations as part of a telework program, partnering with Better World to train island residents for work-at-home call-center jobs. The National Education Foundation (NEF) will provide over $2 million of in-kind match to both programs through its on-line educational programs.
Delegate Donna Christensen praised the PFA in a statement for starting the broadband program, applying for and receiving the grants.
“This funding will go far in closing the gap in technology access that exists among Virgin Islands residents, in creating jobs and providing economic growth in our territory for decades to come,” said Christensen.
These new broadband funds come as the icing on last month’s $59 million cake of federal stimulus funding to help design and build a super-fast fiber optic broadband network for the Virgin Islands.
The network will allow the V.I. Public Finance Authority to offer affordable "middle-mile" broadband service on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. "Middle mile" refers to the internet infrastructure that links retail-level internet providers and telecommunication services to the massive undersea fiber optic trunk cables that carry regional and global data traffic.
An entity within the PFA, called the V.I. Next Generation Network (viNGN) Comprehensive Community Infrastructure Program, will build an underground fiber ring network on the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas and an aerial network on the island of St. John.
These networks will be connected through existing fiber cables to each other, Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland through existing submarine fiber cables.
That federal award requires $29.4 million in matching contributions, half of which the V.I. Water and Power Authority will provide through $15 million in in-kind contributions consisting of conduit and pole space and certain other construction services.
In exchange for its in-kind contributions, WAPA will get access to fiber strands that will help it complete its smart-grid, real-time grid data monitoring effort and it will get a share of wholesale revenues.
While it is ongoing, construction should create over 200 jobs and help spur economic development in the territory for generations to come, by attracting businesses—and creating jobs—in the high technology and financial sectors that depend heavily on reliable advanced high speed telecommunications to interconnect their offices worldwide.
It will also be a boon to the Virgin Islanders who want to start a home-based Internet business or simply want to connect to the World Wide Web at high data rates, according to Government House.
All of these projects, grant applications and awards are the fruit of administration efforts begun last year, according to Government House. In May 2009, deJongh began a broadband public-private partnership and held several round table discussions that solicited input from local telecommunications providers, business, government, and not-for-profit providers on their needs and wants for broadband technology in the Virgin Islands.

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