Plans are in the works to put the Bureau of Information Technology under the V.I. Next Generation Network in an attempt to patch many of the internal communication gaps the government is experiencing, according to Gov. Kenneth Mapp.
Mapp announced his plan to sign an executive order authorizing the move during Monday’s viNGN board meeting. The order is on his desk for review and Mapp said he hopes to deal with it by Friday. The goal, he explained during the meeting, is to get all departments and agencies on a single network with designated portals for areas such as public safety, so first responders can communicate with one another effectively in cases of emergency.
“That whole first responder community is in complete disarray,” Mapp said Monday. “So that they can begin to communicate and use any level of technology in their vehicles, in their work, in 911 system reporting, this is a very big project that we have to address that deals with the safety of the community.”
New network Chief Executive Officer Tonjia Coverdale said she hasn’t been briefed by BIT Director Reuben Molloy on the status of the project, but said it is possible for viNGN to use its network to set up a portal between all first responder agencies so they can communicate privately and other departments and agencies can also be set up that way. The U.S. Department of Education currently communicates over a similar network and Coverdale said viNGN would be using that as a best practice model.
Mapp said he “envisioned” viNGN running as its own internet service provider within the central government, while private ISPs will be used to communicate “with the outside.”
“When we need to communicate outside the network into the world, that process has to be handed over,” he said. “It’s the hole to the outside, but all on our internal system would go in and out through that portal.”
The proposed set up raised technical issues for new board member Johan Clendenin, who said that when all services go through BIT, then into a private domain, it could raise issues with the Federal Communications Commission.
“BIT, in order to do that scenario, would have to register as a public utility that’s regulated so that it can do what it has to do but be limited to the government,” said Clendenin, who also serves as chairman of the Public Services Commission in charge of regulating public utilities in the territory. “When you mix it all, it doesn’t come under the easy parameters of what we are talking about. Each specific area comes with rules and regulations.”
Coverdale disagreed, saying that viNGN would just be providing internal services and the connections with the private sector would remain when a department or agency needs to connect someone outside the central government.
“We’ll just be working switch to switch,” she said.
Clendenin and other board members said they were also concerned about the “viability” of the network as a first responder system, since it wasn’t initially built that way. In times of power outages, hurricanes or other natural disasters, there is no guarantee that everything will continue to stay up and running, they said.
Plans to develop a hurricane and natural disaster plan are in the works, and Coverdale said she hopes to present something to the board soon for approval.
Meanwhile, the deployment of undersea cables between the islands is meant to make the network secure and redundant, viNGN officials said. Board member Peter Schultz said Friday that the permits have come in for the cables, which will be deployed during the first two weeks in August and operational by the end of that month.
“We have everything in hand to actually deploy the cables and once they are connected, they will give us security and redundancy between the islands, and we will have more bandwidth,” he said. “The ship is scheduled for the first or second week of August, deployment will take about two weeks and when that is done, we will be off the AT&T network and will have a redundant network of our own.”
In other news, Coverdale said a federal team was in the territory last week to do final site visits required for the closeouts of the four grants that funded the broadband initiative.
“We received excellent reports and the grants will close out as they are supposed to,” she said.”The federal total for the four grants is $67.4 million, while local and in-kind matches total $13.6 million. Another $31.7 million was authorized by the Public Finance Authority for items including the undersea cable project, which Schultz said the federal government did not pay for because it could not be finished — from permitting to final deployment — within the grant period.