Broadband Committee sifting through options

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 11:00pm
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After holding 17 public meetings, the New Shoreham Broadband Committee has determined that the best solution for a high-speed broadband network is an all-fiber network, or a fiber network with some wireless components. 

But a primary question before the board now is whether to use available funding to connect the Block Island School, the Island Free Library, and the Medical Center to a small hi-speed network. This would be done not only because these facilities could use high-speed internet access now, but it would also serve as a kind of pilot program to show off the benefits of high speed internet.

The cost for that pilot project has been estimated at about $150,000. IT Specialist Michele Spero and Facilities Manager Sam Bird were expected to provide details on this project, but the Broadband Committee meeting scheduled for Nov. 16 was cancelled due to the fact there were no ferries.

The funding for this project would be split among available funds from each of the three facilities.

In the meantime, the Committee is grappling with where the wireless and fiber networks can be installed on the island.

“What we’re trying to get a handle on now is what would be a good place to install the wireless” component of the broadband network, said McKernan, noting that wireless could be installed “for certain houses that would be cheaper to serve with an antenna.”

If there were a wireless component to the network, McKernan said, “How much would you really save? In other words, if the fiber network cost $6 million, and you were going to do 20 percent wireless, and it was only going to save $500,000, is that worth doing? Or should you just say: make the network all fiber. So, that’s what we’re looking at right now.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste asked McKernan how the Broadband Committee was conducting its research for possible wireless network solutions. “We’ve been talking to other towns, talking to technology providers, and also Tilson Technology,” said McKernan.

Tilson Technology, based in Portland, Maine, proposed an $8.3 million broadband network to the island community on Jan. 17, 2017. McKernan said that whatever is decided, there will be a need to acquire some funding — “state, federal, or private. We may need some additional funding to do some engineering studies, if we can’t get Tilson Technology to do it for us for free. We’re now at the point where funding will help us move the process along.”

“You would need a cost to benefit ratio for an all fiber, or a hybrid system,” said Councilor Chris Willi. “Tilson already gave us the all-fiber option, and we want them to give us” a figure on a hybrid system.

“We think they have enough information to give us” a ballpark estimate, said ex officio member and town Finance Director Amy Land, “and a way to see how big that ballpark is.” 

Ex officio member Sam Bird, said, “We want to make sure we’re basing the cost for the two different options that we’ve distilled it down to on the same level of engineering for both, so that we don’t have a more or less hard number for one, and a squishy number for another.”

“Have you nailed down where the fiber part of the hybrid solution would be located?” asked Willi. 

“No,” said Bird. “That’s the level of engineering that has yet to be done.”

The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 30 at 4 p.m.