Town hiring broadband consultant

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 9:30am
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The Town of New Shoreham is hiring a consultant to explore federal grant options that would help pay for the cost of installing a high-speed internet network for five of the town’s anchor institutions.

The Town Council unanimously approved $7,650 to hire HealthConnect Networks, a Bangor, Maine-based consulting firm, to investigate e-Rate and Healthcare Connect Fund subsidy options that would help pay for the cost of connecting Town Hall, the Block Island School, the Block Island Medical Center, the Island Free Library, and the Police Station. The contract calls for 34 hours of work.

Town Finance Director Amy Land, who has been serving in an advisory role to the New Shoreham Broadband Committee, said that federal grant applications can be “very complicated,” and are beyond the town’s expertise. “HealthConnect is best equipped to understand the federal funding process,” she said, noting that HealthConnect would do an analysis of the project and see how it meets funding requirements.

The timetable for acquiring federal (grant) funding is coordinated “with this spring’s application windows” for grant monies that, if approved, would become available after July 1,” said Land. “This is (funding) for just the critical anchor institutions as a step toward the larger project.”

Land told The Block Island Times that no estimate has yet been calculated for this smaller project. “Reviewing and refining the design and funding request plan is part of the scope of work of HealthConnect Networks, so we’ll be waiting to hear their findings,” she said.

During the meeting, Land noted that, “Applications (for grant funding) are due by April 30, and May 31,” and would be for two programs: one for schools and libraries, and the other for healthcare facilities. 

A Jan. 9 letter from Land, IT Manager Michele Spero, and Facilities Manager Sam Bird, to Town Manager Edward Roberge, noted that this step is aimed at meeting two key objectives: (1) providing critical service to the town’s main facilities, and (2) to serve as a catalyst for a broader initiative. The letter states that efforts to define a comprehensive technical and funding approach for a town-wide solution has been challenging.

Councilor Sven Risom said he wanted assurances that the broader island-wide broadband network would be included in the project’s scope. “How do we ensure that this ties in with the bigger island-wide effort?” asked Risom.

“The answer to that question is the resolve of the Broadband Committee,” said Broadband Committee member Ray Torrey. “This is step one, and then we move on. This is just an interim measure.”

Torrey said the Committee members “all agreed that this is a great opportunity for the institutions that need it desperately, like the School and the Medical Center. And once that is done, the people will see the extreme difference that broadband has created” for the island community.

Land said that “a key part of the design” for the anchor institution broadband project is that it be “expandable.” She said the plan “needs to be scalable” to accommodate an island-wide network.

“With success in acquiring funding, what would be the fruition date?” asked First Warden Ken Lacoste.

Land said the first step would be HealthConnect’s analysis, and the work involved with applying for funding. “The next step would be, if we decide, to create an RFP that gets filed with the FCC. Then we hear back from the federal funds as to whether we are eligible or not.” 

In other news, the Town Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to be sent to the Rhode Island General Assembly supporting sharing of all interconnection and standby transformer costs associated with National Grid’s sea2shore cable transmission system with mainland National Grid ratepayers.

The next Town Council meeting is Monday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.