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Thursday, August 18, 2022
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Broadband Funding Bill Stalls in Committee

Another 12 hours of testimony Tuesday and it was still a no-go for senators on the government’s territory-wide broadband initiative, as a bill authorizing up to $42.5 million in financing needed for the project was held in committee for further amendments.

The bill—which would allow the government to go after approximately $32 million in short-term financing for the project that would later be paid back through the issuance of longer-term gross receipts tax bonds—elicited a similar reaction from senators at last month’s full session, when it was sent back to committee for further debate, despite pleas from government officials that any extensive delays could jeopardize about $70 million in federal economic stimulus funding.

But Tuesday’s committee hearing was a similar back and forth between senators and testifiers, with concerns raised over the need to issue more bonds, along with the structure of the V.I. Next Generation Network—a subsidiary of the Public Finance Authority set up to build, roll out and operate the network—and how it plans to involve local providers.

Opting to assuage their concerns through amendments to the bill, senators voted to hold it until April 15, when committee chairman Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone has scheduled another meeting.

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Voting to hold the bill were Sens. Louis P. Hill, Malone, Janette Millin-Young and Patrick Simeon Sprauve.

Sens. Neville James and Terrence "Positive" Nelson abstained, while Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen was absent.

"Today’s action, or better yet inaction, by the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Technology and Agriculture represented another misstep by the Legislature when it comes to bringing reliable and affordable telecommunications and broadband access to all of the people of the Virgin Islands," Government House spokesman Jean P. Greaux Jr. said in a statement released after the hearing finished late Tuesday night.

Adding that the government could no longer wait for the Legislature to take the lead on the initiative, Greaux said Gov. John deJongh Jr. would make clear Wednesday his plans on what the government’s next step will be.

"The fact is that the entire territory is either unserved, or underserved, by current access to broadband, and after 14 hours of testimony Tuesday we still have not seen any action, or leadership taken by this Legislature to avoid losing nearly $70 million dollars in federal funding," Greaux said.

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