Communication Assistance needed for US Virgin Islands

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We the people of the US Virgin Islands, and the friends and family of the people of the US Virgin Islands, are asking for assistance in helping ourselves in these dangerous and troubling times following the devastation brought on by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The hurricanes battered St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, and Water islands.  Many of us have no home; those with homes often have no roof; most have no electricity, running water, or telephone. Having lived through the past Hurricanes of Hugo and Marilyn, we know it will be this way for many months as the islands slowly rebuild devastated infrastructure.

 In addition to the obvious (food, shelter, etc.), the resource we desperately need is EASY ACCESS to communications and information. Please join us in this effort to obtain one basic everyday resource that we DO NOT HAVE and so DESPERATELY NEED in this time of great need tribulation: wireless Internet access.

Ironically, our friends and family outside the islands often have better information about what’s happening than those of us who live here. The islands are under a 16 hour a day curfew, and lines for food, water, and gas are hours long.  For most people on St. Thomas, St. John, and Water islands, the only way to currently receive news and information is via one radio station: WSTA. This station has done a great job, but can only broadcast a fraction of the information that people need regarding where and when water, food, gasoline, and other essentials are available, and where to get health and safety information. Landline phone service for most is severely limited or nonexistent. Television doesn’t work because there’s no power. While the radio station is doing a great job, this is not enough. Many residents don’t have radios or can’t get batteries for their radios. Officials on island are referring residents to websites to get information – but many residents either don’t have access to the Internet due to coverage issues or financial concerns.  We desperately need access to the resources and assistance available online, but many cannot access this information because Internet access is unavailable to residents in their homes. WiFi and wireless data is an important and life saving resource for us NOW. As we move from rescue to recovery mode, Internet access will provide for safety along with a return to normalcy. After Hurricane Marilyn FEMA set up TV for the islands as a step to normalcy. Internet access is today’s TV – and much, and more. Our hospital has been destroyed, but Internet access can provide telemedicine to help take up the slack. Our schools may not open for months, but online courses can be taken by our students. We need Internet access now for safety/information and on through recovery

We are requesting that FEMA, VINGN, the VI Government, and telecommunications carriers to push forward a two pronged approach to bring data service to residents.  First, we applaud the current efforts to make free WiFi available in select areas, and urge FEMA and the VI Government to dramatically expand these efforts.  Fortunately for the VI, the taxpayers of the US and the US Virgin Islands have funded a fiber optic underground telecommunications network that is in place run by the VI Next Generation Network (VINGN).  This network is used by telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to provide Internet access, and is connected to a backbone back to the US. On both St. Thomas and St. John, there are many towers in the islands still standing that are connected to or are close to this network which could provide ready public access to the Internet, built by the people through our tax dollars. We need to utilize this public resource NOW, with broadband Internet access made available free via WiFi and any other available technologies for the next few months.. We need Internet in our homes, NOT just in centers. We already wait 2 hours at the market, 4 hours for gas and are under a 16 hour curfew.

Second, for the major telecommunications carriers serving the island with cellular Internet access (AT&T, Sprint, and VIYA), we ask that their networks be opened to allow unlimited data access to all cellular devices (regardless of carrier).  These carriers have all benefitted from public subsidies, and we are asking that they demonstrate public mindedness and open their networks temporarily as part of the rebuilding effort. Anyone on island who has a cellular capable device – regardless of their carrier, regardless of the plan they have with the carrier – should temporarily be allowed unlimited data access on every network to which they can connect.  This is not merely a matter of convenience, but can be a matter of life and death as cellular data is (ironically) much more reliable than voice calls on island. Safe, open, and free communication is desperately needed by the people of these islands.  We ask that these companies work with FEMA and the FCC to bring service to as many people as possible as quickly as possible to assist in the rebuilding efforts.

 We implore FEMA, VINGN, the VI Government, the FCC, and the carriers listed above to work together to bring wireless Internet to as much of the islands as possible as quickly as possible. In addition to signing this petition, we ask you to contact President Trump, and your representatives in the US Congress to push this initiative. Most importantly please pray for all the residents of the USVI as we begin to rebuild our beautiful islands!



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