US Virgin Islands working to restore telecommunications
The 2017 hurricane season was undoubtedly one of the worst the world has seen in recent years. The hurricane season began in roughly mid April 2017 and lasted through mid November. The hurricane season has been dubbed the, “most expensive [hurricane season] in U.S. History” by National Geographic, with its estimated $200 billion in damages . The United States’ mainland was not the only place affected by the storms; many islands in the Caribbean including Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands were subjected to destruction as well. The devastation in the US Virgin Islands accounted for at least $7.5 billion of total estimated damage caused by the storms.
In addition to city infrastructure, the already-lacking telecommunications infrastructure in the US Virgin Island was also destroyed. This made it difficult for residents to receive alerts regarding aid or evacuation routes and contact family members.
Senator Janelle Sarauw of the US Virgin Islands, who has been an advocate for improved communication since she took office in July 2017, maintained constant contact with major telecommunications companies after the storms in an effort to reestablish reliable service. The senator issued a statement claiming that the communications issues must be “addressed expeditedly”. Senator Sarauw further emphasized these efforts after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake off the coast of the US Virgin Islands prompted a tsunami advisory in January 2018. The unreliable communications networks made it impossible to warn the residents of the islands, leaving the majority of residents completely unaware of the possible threat to their safety. After the advisory ended, Senator Sarauw stated, “The event of last night is a major reminder as to the importance and need of reestablishing communication within our islands… Not only do we need to restore service, but provide an infrastructure that can function through a crisis”.
On January 18, 2018, following the tsunami advisory, the territory’s largest telecommunications provider Viya announced the launch of their 4G LTE wireless network on the island of St. John in an effort to improve communications and lessen the effects of possible future crises.
The 4G network was able to provide vastly improved communication on the islands, and more improvements are on the horizon. The introduction of 5G networks by major US communications companies like AT&T and Sprint threaten to make the US Virgin Islands 4G network obsolete in a matter of years, prompting Viya to improve its networks. Because the islands are still rebuilding from the disastrous 2017 hurricane season, the US Virgin Islands could see the implementation of a 5G network very soon. Hopefully, the improved communication technology can restore peace of mind to the residents of the US Virgin Islands.