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A Reckless Move by the V.I. Senate by Peter Schultz, Ph.D

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ansen
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Interesting article/letter by Peter Schultz, Ph.D from the opinion column of the VI Source...

"Along with my colleagues on the viNGN board Alfred Boschulte and Keith O’Neale, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that the USVI Senate voted on Thursday, March 24 to send a request by viNGN for matching funds for the Federal Stimulus Broadband Project back to the Finance Committee for further consideration.

This reckless move will cause the Territory to actually lose the $68 million in federal grants to build a state-of-the-art fiber optic communications network throughout the USVI as well as the 51 public computer centers and training programs that viNGN is tasked with developing. We cannot let this happen. This grant is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the USVI to upgrade its communication network to world class standards and allow us to participate in the telecommunications revolution that is sweeping the rest of the world. It would be a crime, a travesty, to lose it.

I am a scientist and inventor and have lived on St. Thomas since 2001. In the 1960s and 1970s, as a scientist at Corning, I invented the fiber optics that are now used worldwide for communications. Nearly one billion miles of fiber have been deployed worldwide since that invention and all of them are based on my work. These fibers have been directly responsible for the spectacular improvement in telecommunications that has allowed the development of the Internet and other broadband services. I have remained active in this field as a scientist, inventor and businessman (now semi-retired) ever since and have been anxious to use my expertise to help the USVI.

In 2009, I urged Governor de Jongh to apply for federal stimulus funds aimed at building fiber optic communication networks in underserved states and territories. He agreed and we applied. In September of 2010, we were notified that we had won an award of approximately $68 million, provided the local government matched this grant with a $29 million contribution. Since then, viNGN was formed to oversee construction and operation of this network. I proudly serve as one of the seven directors of viNGN.

What are we going to build? First, we are building what is called an “open access middle mile broadband network.” That is a mouthful. What it means is that we are installing main loops of fiber optic cables on St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island. We are connecting these islands together through undersea fiber optic cable and connecting this network to the rest of the world through several existing long haul undersea fiber optic cables. This network will have extremely high bandwidth (information carrying capacity) and will be capable of serving all of the Territories’ communications needs for many, many years to come. It is also “open access,” which means viNGN is not going into the business of providing services to the end user (you), but rather, we will sell this bandwidth to the service providers who already serve you today, such as Choice, Innovative and Broadband VI who could not afford to build such an expensive network themselves. We are not going into the business of competing with them.

By connecting their existing networks into our core fiber network, they will be able to provide you with much better service than they can today. That means up to a thousand times faster Internet, better digital TV and telephone service. It will help us to attract companies (financial, technical, etc.) that require this high bandwidth for their operations to relocate to the USVI, and improve the competitiveness of companies already here, thereby bringing us much needed jobs and expanding our economy.

But that is not all; our network will also connect all of our schools, the university, libraries, medical facilities, government offices, police, fire, emergency services (such as 911 and disaster communications) and WAPA into this ultra high speed communication network. It will bring our communication system into the 21st century. This is a dream come true, but only if our government provides the matching funds required by the federal grants.

And, under these grants, we will receive funding to build and connect to this network 51 public computer centers with a total of 745 computer work stations which are available to the general public to have high speed Internet services that many people cannot afford at home. These will be located in public libraries, community centers, senior citizens centers and the Boys and Girls Clubs and can give our children, senior citizens and all residents direct access to a high speed computer Internet connection free of charge. These grants also provide us with funds to teach our citizens how to use and benefit from these services through a “Sustainable Broadband Adoption Project.”

I suspect that some service providers are nervous about this effort, thinking they will lose control of the near monopolies (and high cost poor service) they have enjoyed for many years. I repeat: we are not trying to compete with them. Rather, we are building a high speed network for their use (and yours), a network none of them could afford to build themselves. Don’t let this golden opportunity for the USVI to join the communications revolution slip through our hands. Without it, we will never compete against those that do have it. Future generation Virgin Islanders will never have the educational and economic opportunities this network can bring them.

Don’t delay; call your senator today and tell them you want them to support this project 100%. With your help, we and our children can all have a much brighter future."

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Topic starter Posted : April 4, 2011 12:51 pm
Cruz
 Cruz
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hmmm.....reckless just because you said so Peter. I wonder how much money Peter stands to gain from this deal.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 1:09 pm
Ronnie
(@ronnie)
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hmmm.....reckless just because you said so Peter. I wonder how much money Peter stands to gain from this deal.

Pretty much irrelevant if we lose the funding.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 1:28 pm
Juanita
(@Juanita)
Expert

Peter,
What was the Senate's concern and/or reasoning for sending it bact to Finance?

@Cruz, Are you saying you are opposed? If so, why?

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Posted : April 4, 2011 1:51 pm
rhstoo
(@rhstoo)
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If we want to attract more revenue producing businesses and more tourist revenue, we must build this infrastructure.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 1:57 pm
Cruz
 Cruz
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If we want to attract more revenue producing businesses and more tourist revenue, we must build this infrastructure.

it seems like this government run venture would be shutting out revenue producing businesses and forcing them to use this proposed government run infrastructure.

also, why are we looking to build a landline infrastructure when wireless is the current wave of the future? And while other countries are working to provide their citizens with inexpensive laptops, our plan is to build computer centers???

There's also a lot of questions that need to be answered in regards to the financing of this project.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 2:08 pm
ms411
(@ms411)
Expert

Didn't Global Crossing build an underwater fiber network in the territory a few years ago? I thought the VI was supposed to benefit from that. It seems to me that the current proposal is based on assumptons that the private sector will immediately jump on board. What will be the cost to the government if they don't? As usual, there isn't enough public information for everybody to feel that this project is the best solution to connectivity in the VI.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 3:24 pm
SunnyCaribe
(@SunnyCaribe)
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Cruz, crawl back under the rock. You and your cronies on the legislature aren't getting the kickbacks you demand so you are sabotaging this project, as you do with every territorial improvement project. Every single child, business person, consumer in the territory should spit in your face. They WOULD spit in your face if they knew your identity, which your cowardly motive of anonymous trash talk prevents you from revealing.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 3:51 pm
FL Barrier Islander
(@FL_Barrier_Islander)
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I'm viewing this project as critical to improve and expand the backbone infrastructure that is so desperately needed in the territory. There needs to be 1. increased capacity and 2. reliable bandwidth connecting to the VI islands, US and rest of the world. Undersea fiber optic cable is the absolute right way to do this - interconnecting the islands, fiber and multiple paths will make the capacity and reliability very, very high. Satellite links are slower and the capacity, quality and reliability is much less.

There are subsea cables throughout the world. Interconnecting continents/countries that promote business growth and development. Sure, many telco companies pool their resources and invest in subsea cables. It's a huge investment. But, in the VI, that's not happening because as mentioned, the telco/service providers here don't have the capital to undertake this. Many countries' govt makes the investment to build/expand the backbone telecommunication infrastructure including Austrailia, Africa, etc. They feel it is a critical national priority to promote and expand education and business opportunities which translates to jobs which translates to improved quality of life for residents. I agree. This project will allow the local telco/service providers to direct their investments from the edge of the "cloud" (backbone) out to the end user/customers who will greatly benefit.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 4:45 pm
Cruz
 Cruz
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Didn't Global Crossing build an underwater fiber network in the territory a few years ago? I thought the VI was supposed to benefit from that. It seems to me that the current proposal is based on assumptons that the private sector will immediately jump on board. What will be the cost to the government if they don't? As usual, there isn't enough public information for everybody to feel that this project is the best solution to connectivity in the VI.

Great question ms411!!! The govt would like to sweep that under the rug, like Global Crossings doesn't exist and this project is a MUST.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 5:39 pm
stt007
(@stt007)
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Cruz,
You are emblematic of why we remain a third world island. 1) Peter says he is not in this to compete so am not sure why you suspect this is all about the money but more importantly, 2) if you were not such a small thinker you could see the bigger picture of a huge improvement for the islands. Even if Peter were to make some money, why walk away from $68M that could help us move to the 21st century. Are you so envious someone might make some money (still an open question) that you would rather keep us in the stone age? Your class envy us detrimental to the overall advancement if the VIs and you should be embarrassed by your thought process. Be the bigger person for the sake of the rest of us and move your envy aside. Small thinking holds us all back.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 8:06 pm
Neil
 Neil
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I don't know all the details of this project, but on an island that has trouble keeping the power on, and keeping the electric rates down, $68 million in MATCHING funds ($176 mil total) seems like a lot of dough.

I suspect the reason it was sent back to committee is the Govt doesn't have the money to match the grant? Anyone know about that?

I also agree that it seems rather quaint to put highspeed access in community centers. Put them in the libraries and schools and be done with it.

For comparison:

For $176 million you could put up 3,500 20kw Wind turbines. That's enough to power 14,000 to 18,000 average island homes... zeroing out their avg $300 a month WAPA bill for the life of the turbines. (yes, I attended the VI Wind Conference last year, ask me more)

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Posted : April 4, 2011 8:39 pm
poodle
(@poodle)
Trusted Member

I have concerns about our government starting another project that they will likely screw up. Look at WAPA, how long must we wait to overhaul WAPA? $68m would have gone far in solar, hydro, & wind upgrades. Why are we spending this large sum of money on something new when we haven't taken care of the existing problems first?

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Posted : April 4, 2011 10:23 pm
East Ender
(@east-ender)
Expert

I am skeptical when the first thing this group did was decide that the CEO needs $170,000. And does the CEO have any experience in completing task like this?

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Posted : April 4, 2011 10:53 pm
Cruz
 Cruz
(@Cruz)
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Cruz,
You are emblematic of why we remain a third world island. 1) Peter says he is not in this to compete so am not sure why you suspect this is all about the money but more importantly, 2) if you were not such a small thinker you could see the bigger picture of a huge improvement for the islands. Even if Peter were to make some money, why walk away from $68M that could help us move to the 21st century. Are you so envious someone might make some money (still an open question) that you would rather keep us in the stone age? Your class envy us detrimental to the overall advancement if the VIs and you should be embarrassed by your thought process. Be the bigger person for the sake of the rest of us and move your envy aside. Small thinking holds us all back.

my class enyy??? ok whatever!

For everyone else here's a summary of the issues with this project.

http://cruciansinfocus.com/2011/04/03/broadband-countdown-will-it-go-live-or-shut-down-on-tuesday/

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Posted : April 4, 2011 11:31 pm
ms411
(@ms411)
Expert

Many have probably heard that Google will be installing a fiber network in Kansas City. After a quick Google search, it doesn't look like the VI applied for Google's offer. Google's fiberforcommunities.org website has been replaced, so it's hard to determine why Google prefers fiber over wireless, but if the VI had applied, it would make their argument for this project much stronger.

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Posted : April 4, 2011 11:31 pm
sugarlander
(@sugarlander)
Advanced Member

There’s no question that the islands need broadband. But the total cost is over $3,000 for every man, woman, and child in the territory. I really question the approach of laying fiber all over the island for $187 million.

To say that “Choice, Innovative and Broadband VI...could not afford to build such an expensive network themselves” isn’t quite accurate. If it made financial sense, venture capitalists are willing to step in. I can’t imagine that there are enough subscribers to provide a reasonable return for an investment of this magnitude.

I’m not against this project, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. What’s the justification for building a network on this scale? Why isn’t wireless being considered? What are the expected revenues? Who stands to benefit and loose from this project?

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Posted : April 5, 2011 1:35 am
Juanita
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Is it $68 million in matching funds or $29 million like the OP said?

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Posted : April 5, 2011 2:09 am
Cruz
 Cruz
(@Cruz)
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The legislative branch should NEVER be a rubber stamp for the executive branch! This is what democracy is about and there should be checks and balances. The legislature did the right thing by sending it back to committee in order to be further discussed.

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Posted : April 5, 2011 2:29 am
stiphy
(@stiphy)
Trusted Member

I think this infrastructure is of vast importance to the VI, but I do have to wonder would they not get better results by giving Verizon $20 million, Comcast $20 million, locking them into long term contracts, and making them compete with one another to keep prices down. I looked at the numbers and at the end of the day the price per mile of fiber laid by this program is astronomical, it's only because the money is largely coming from the feds that it is a "good deal" for the USVI (but not a good deal for the citizens of the US).

That said, we are a group of small islands and one of the biggest disadvantages of has traditionally been the geographical limitations imposed by that fact. The internet could be more revolutionary to our way of life than the airplane was. This sort of infrastructure should be viewed in much the same way as airport's were, vital in our bid to unshackle ourselves from the geographical disadvantages of being isolated from larger population centers. At the end of the day this program is a good deal for the USVI (due to the matching funds) and we would be foolish not to take it.

I think the Senate knows the Governor wants this and is trying to make him spend political capital to get this, or trade for things the senator's want themselves. Of course that put's the interests of us citizens second, but that's politics, not just here but everywhere.

Sean

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Posted : April 5, 2011 9:02 am
noOne
(@noOne)
Trusted Member

ROFL, $187m for 110,000 residents equals $3000 per resident? Do you even know how to use that little app that comes with every computer, usually called Calculator? That's $1700 per person, by those numbers.

Even so, like Juanita said, it's matching $29m of USVI money to at least $68m given by the federal government., which is a total of $97m. Jesus you people can't even do simple 3rd grade addition and division. That's $263 per resident, and I think that is a good investment, for many reasons:

You want another industry than just tourism or soon to be major world rum manufacturing or minor world oil refining depending on Hovensa? You are in a prime location to provide data services to a large amount of international countries - don't forget, STT is a major hub for Internet communications - the fiber comes into Magens, to the AT&T building out on Picara Point.

If you think that the world is wireless, then you are a moron. The fiber is the backbone, simply because of the raw amount of data that can go over it vs. wireless, never mind problems with wireless like loss over distance, interference by weather, etc. I am not saying wireless is useless, but the real backbone of the Internet for a good part of the foreseeable future is fiber.

Some rich guy, for reasons I do not know, had the local telco tear up my street, to get fiber into his mini-mansion. I can't wait until I have it into my house, and I've had 128Kb ISDN before my slowly upgraded to 26Mb cable was available here, fourteen years ago. Yeah I have wireless for my machines in my home, but I want the originating "series of tubes" to be fiber, into my home.

How well is your wireless working on your island, for how much, even not considering there is a major world fiber hub sitting out at Magens point? Don't you want to give poor people a chance at using these 51 public computer centers, or is that too much to give them?

Look at this picture, and notice not only that we pay quite a bit more than Japan per Mb, but the USA only ranks 15th in the world for speed:

//Peter J. de Blanc was my mentor

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Posted : April 5, 2011 9:15 am
sugarlander
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I stand corrected. I took the pop. of STX. It's still a significant amount at $1,700 per person.

It's not hard to figure out who stands to personally gain or lose under this proposal. My bet is it's the posters that are doing the name calling.

Stiphy's right in that broadband is revolutionary. Higher speeds would enable a lot of great apps for me including Netflix, video conferencing, etc. I'm certainly willing to pay for speed.

As I stated before, I'm not against this proposal. I just think the there needs to be more transparency and the public needs to understand the costs, revenues, and the potential liabilities to the taxpayers as well as alternatives considered.

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Posted : April 5, 2011 11:13 am
rhstoo
(@rhstoo)
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I stand to gain zero from this proposal. And yet...I support it! I would love to get everyone off of WAPA dependency but this money can only be used for fiber. Wireless between here and PR or the States doesnt work and satellite is too weather-effected for commercial communications. Get a clue! It's a useful investment.

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Posted : April 5, 2011 2:10 pm
Cruz
 Cruz
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I stand to gain zero from this proposal. And yet...I support it! I would love to get everyone off of WAPA dependency but this money can only be used for fiber. Wireless between here and PR or the States doesnt work and satellite is too weather-effected for commercial communications. Get a clue! It's a useful investment.

St. Croix is already connected to the Global Crossing Fiber Optic network in which landfall is made in Frederiksted. So why are they going to waste money in order to lay underwater cables to PR??? Get a clue! That's WASTE!

The money should be used to expand and build on the current infrastructure. No one is against improving broadband service in the territory. The problem is the way this money is planned to be spent.

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Posted : April 5, 2011 2:56 pm
DL
 DL
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Where did you read that VINGN was connecting underwater cables to PR? I thought it was just between STX, STT and STJ. Mr. Schultz letter also states that they are "connecting this network to the rest of the world through several existing long haul undersea fiber optic cables". Perhaps Global Crossing is one of those existing fiber optic cables?

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Posted : April 5, 2011 3:41 pm
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