“We’re off and running”
“A good thing about a rainy day is one has time to read things like this,” said Town Council member Keith Stover. He was speaking about a 58-page contract with Crocker Communications, the Internet Service Provider for Block Island’s municipal broadband project.
The document is an important and necessary step before customers can get “lit” and begin receiving services. (Getting lit, in this case is a good thing and refers to the fiber optics of the broadband cables.) In the contract,
the services provided to customers are laid out in detail, as are the prices for the various tiers of internet services and for telephone service. So too, the responsibilities of Crocker are defined.
Crocker will maintain a help desk that will answer a 1-800 number 24 hours per day, do billing, and other service-oriented tasks. As one representative from Mission Broadband, a consultant on the project said at the Town Council’s meeting on October 3: “They make sure the screws are working. The service provider provides access to the world-wide web.” It was, he said, “One last milestone.” Town Finance Director Amy Land said that the terms and pricing of the services offered were consistent with the request for proposals that was issued in 2019. The contract is for five years and is renewable.
The councilors had several questions – Stover said he had a “running list of questions over the past year,” but the contract had answered many of them. “This to me is the most public-facing” aspect of this project.
“Most people I’ve talked to have never done streaming television,” said Stover, suggesting training sessions be held for people at the library.
Land concurred that education was necessary and that it had been a particular focus of the town Broadband Commission. Educational videos are being developed by Sertex, the company performing the installation, that will be on the new website.
Both Stover and councilor Mark Emmanuelle asked about what one could expect if service was needed and the 1-800 number called.
Mission’s John Dougherty answered that the initial call would be answered by Crocker, and they would ask a series of questions to try to determine what the issue is. “They can see into the home,” he said. “They will be able to jump on the equipment” to determine what the signal strengths were on any given device. “If they realize there’s no light...then yes, that call is dispatched to Sertex to go to the house.”
Second Warden Sven Risom asked if Sertex would have someone on the island 24 hours per day.
“It’s not proscribed in the contract,” said Land, adding that if the arrangement was “not working, we will change it.”
Dougherty said that since Sertex would be on the island for quite some time to come performing installation work, they should be available for quick responses to problems.
“I have a technical question,” said Stover. “Data usage doesn’t level off...it’s always increasing. Are we in good shape for the foreseeable future?”
This is one of my favorite topics,” said Jim Rogers, another representative from Mission Broadband. “What you are getting is future-proof ahead of time.” He went on to explain that Block Island purchased two 100-gigabyte connections that had some redundancy built in. One connection goes to Boston, and one to New York City. “Other than the part undersea, those routes are completely diverse. As soon as they hit Narragansett, one goes left and one goes right.”
That many gigabytes is more than needed by a longshot according to Rogers. “We’re pretty confident you wouldn’t use more than the 10-gigabyte range. That being said, we still future-proofed it.”
As far as affordability, plans start at $24.95 for internet (there will also be a monthly maintenance fee) and there is a possibility that low-income customers can tap into federal assistance to reduce the cost.
But first, the system has to actually go live before Crocker can apply to and be accepted into the federal program, according to Land.
The maintenance portion of the monthly bill will go to the Town of New Shoreham and into a restricted enterprise fund to be used specifically for system maintenance and repairs. “The town has costs,” said Land. “Capital replacement is a good example.” There will also be taxes and fees that are set by the state and federal governments.
For an extra charge, one may get additional IP addresses. “Help me out,” said Second Warden Sven Risom. “Why would I need 176 IP addresses?”
“That’s more for hotels,” said Dougherty.
“The typical home or small business can run multiple devices with one address,” said Rogers.
As far as knowing which internet package is sufficient for your needs, Land said that “there is flexibility” when it comes to changing service levels.
Councilor Martha Ball asked about telephone service. “I know this has been asked,” said Ball. “What happens to my old phone number?” (It’s been the same number since dial-up started.)
“That’s actually a great question, Martha, and one we haven’t done tonight,” said Land, jokingly. “You may move your number.”
“It’s called ‘porting,’” said Dougherty. One puts in a request to Crocker and they will contact the current carrier and arrange the switchover. It might take a few days to happen he said, and there could be a very brief outage period – typically only a few minutes. “It’s done every day,” he said. “It’s not a new process.”
A motion to have the town manager, Maryanne Crawford, sign the contract, which is available to the public as an attachment to the agenda on the town’s website, passed unanimously, four to none. (First Warden Andre Boudreau was stuck off-island.)
“Congratulations!” said Risom. “We’re off and running.”