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HomeNewsLocal newsDiasporaLink Act Could Save Internet Provider, viNGN Says

DiasporaLink Act Could Save Internet Provider, viNGN Says

Stephan Adams, president of viNGN, testified at a Senate hearing Tuesday. (Screenshot of live feed)

The Virgin Islands Next Generation Network (viNGN), the company that provides internet access to providers like Liberty VI and Viya, has been in financial trouble since its inception, officials told local legislators Tuesday. But a bill being considered by the U.S. Senate could both dramatically increase the territory’s digital global relevance and pave the way for cheaper, more reliable internet service.

If Washington approves, the DiasporaLink Act would digitally connect the U.S. mainland with Africa via fiber optic cables stretched through the U.S. Virgin Islands. The plan would require exactly the kind of infrastructure the territory already needs, expensive high-tech hardware and an additional power plant, said Stephan Adams, viNGN’s president.

Hardening the Virgin Islands’ internet resiliency was a key issue, Adams said.

“If something falls off the pole in St. Croix, all of St. Thomas is down — the entire island, down,” he told the Senate’s Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance.

The issue was compounded as demand for online access expanded while the Virgin Islands population shrunk, Adams said.

“Our population size is not big enough for the expense of our company,” Adams said.

He acknowledged that, currently, Virgin Islands internet service is expensive compared to the mainland — a problem unlikely to change soon as federal infrastructure grants were going to Liberty’s build-out.

The viNGN is a public corporation wholly owned subsidiary of the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority. It was established in 2010 and promptly fell into financial trouble, Adams said, by running cables between St. Thomas and St. Croix before receiving an expected federal grant. The grant was not appropriated, leaving viNGN in the lurch.

“We‘re still cleaning up a mess that’s existed for 10 years,” Adams said. “viNGN has never been in the black. It’s always been in the red and remains in the red.”

Counterintuitively, were it not for the devastation wrought by the hurricanes of 2017, the situation at viNGN might be worse, he said. Federal disaster relief grants help steady the company’s financial footing.

If all goes well, Adams said, the DiasporaLink Act could be passed by Senators in Washington before Summer and be on President Joe Biden’s desk soon after. The legislation, which the House of Representatives passed in March, is vital for reducing costs and improving service, he said.

“There is no other way, operationally, we could get the price down to be acceptable,” he said, “unless half the staff were laid off,” he said. “We have to find a new battlefield, and that is DiasporaLink.”

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