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Christensen Urges Virgin Islanders to Give FCC Feedback on Internet Plans

April 21, 2009 — The Federal Communication Commission is putting together a national broadband Internet-access plan as part of this year's economic-stimulus package, and Delegate Donna M. Christensen wants Virgin Islanders to weigh in.
"The FCC is interested in finding out the most efficient ways to ensure that all Americans, in our schools, hospitals, businesses and homes, have access to high-speed Internet and other broadband services," said Christensen, according to a news release from her office. The delegate is a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications, which oversees broadband issues.
The FCC is also seeking information on how to make it affordable and how to use it efficiently in all areas to include job creation and economic development.
"The FCC intends to solicit information from across the country, and we must make sure that our voices are heard," Christensen said.
The broadband plan is scheduled to be completed by February 2010. The stimulus package also allocates $4.7 billion in grants through the National Telecommunications Information Administration within the U.S. Department of Commerce and $2.5 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Program. All must go to develop and expand broadband access nationwide.
They will provide a combination of direct loans and grants to telecommunications companies that offer the most viable and economically advantageous proposals. Broadband funding under the stimulus package will have to be obligated by Sept. 30, 2010.
Area Internet providers are beginning to look into how they might be able to qualify for and use some of this money, but no one has announced concrete plans as of yet.
"What they are specifically looking for are carrier-neutral items, or thing that would help bring more broadband to rural, under-served communities," said Mike Meluskey, a managing member of Internet provider Broadband V.I., on Tuesday. "We are looking at a couple of things, but we haven't narrowed them down yet. We have to talk with vendors and work up cost estimates and see if they are doable, if they would fit the definition of carrier neutral, and if they would help out the whole island."
To be carrier-neutral means any service provider could use the same infrastructure, in the manner that cell towers, for instance, can host several providers, or landlines can carry traffic for any telephone service. As a result, companies that make and own this type of infrastructure will likely have an advantage in getting funds, Meluskey said.
"Most of it will likely get gobbled up by the AT&Ts of the world," he said.
Residents can find out more from the FCC by clicking here, apply for NTIA grants at ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants, and give their comments by clicking here. Information on and applications for the USDA program can be found by clicking here.
Competitive grants are available for:
— broadband deployment in unserved and under-served areas, and for strategic community institutions and public safety agencies;
— boosting computing capacity at public computer centers, such as in community colleges and libraries; and
— innovative programs to enhance consumer demand for broadband service.
The stimulus act requires that at least 75 percent of any area getting funds be rural and lack sufficient access to high-speed broadband service to facilitate rural economic development. Priority will be given to projects that give end users a choice of Internet service providers, serve the highest proportion of rural residents that lack access to broadband service, and are ready to start immediately.
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