Broadband stringing along

Fri, 06/04/2021 - 10:00am

Sertex appears to be actively progressing with the installation of the island-wide broadband network, although they will need to take a pause on some of the work for the busy summer months, particularly along busy roadways. Town Finance Director Amy Land, who is also an ex-officio member of the committee, told the Broadband Committee at its meeting on Thursday May 28, that Sertex was making appointments with home owners, installing conduit – or “underground drops” – and dealing with some unexpected problems.

So far, just over 1500 people have registered for broadband. Some have reported that they could not find their address when registering, and Land said they were working with those whose addresses weren’t validated.
Land asked if anyone had any feedback – either positive or negative, regarding the installation of conduit.
One member had both. Sertex installed the fiber to his house, but not the cottage on the same property, saying they needed a “separate work ticket.” But, the real problem was that the underground wires for an electric dog fence had been cut. He said he called the company when he went down in his basement and heard “chirping” that indicated a power interruption, and Sertex came back and repaired the break within a couple hours. He emphasized that the workers were both efficient and polite.
Land said she had been asked about the coils of orange wire that are currently hanging off of many utility poles. She assured attendees that there would not be orange wires running up the telephone poles of Block Island and that any wires that do run up the poles would be sheathed in a color that would blend in. The orange coils are for conduit that will be running underground.

The town has long maintained that there would be only one free service drop at each property although they have never said exactly how they would handle, or what it would cost, to have a second or multiple drops at a property. Now the idea of Section 513 accessory apartments being hooked up for free is being considered. “The question has come up,” said Land. “They wouldn’t normally be included, but the goal was to promote year-round rentals, so we’re putting it out there for discussion.”

Some on the committee needed an update on just what a Section 513 apartment is. It was a program instituted to encourage more year-round housing by allowing the homeowner to build a second residence on his or her property as long as it met certain size restrictions and was rented out to a year-round resident.
There are currently about 52 Section 513 apartments. Former town facilities manager (now retired) Sam Bird said that the program is “pretty carefully monitored.”

Landlords must provide copies of leases to the town attesting that the property is indeed rented to a year-round resident. If an apartment is considered non-conforming, or the owner wishes to revoke the Section 513 designation, the kitchen must be removed.

Resident Kim Gaffett said that property owners must “re-up” with the town every three years.

Because of the possibility of abandonment, both Chair Lucinda Morrison and Stephen Record thought the apartment owners should be responsible for the cost.
“How much are we considering charging?” asked Record.
“It depends on the length of the run,” answered Bird.

Part of the Sertex contract stipulated drops would be at a cost-per-foot, said Land, and that the installation of the second drop could run between $1,500 and $2,500.

There were several points made on either side. Bird said that although the landlord was making money by renting through Section 513, owners were forgoing more lucrative seasonal rentals.

Morrison thought that “if you could afford a house and a 513, you can afford the drop.”
Record said he would just pass the cost on to the renter.

The subject was tabled for future discussion.

Now that the broadband network is in the process of being built, the Broadband Committee is having something of an existential crisis. Some members expressed frustration that they weren’t being included in decision making and were not getting important updates on a timely basis.
Record said that he felt the committee had been “marginalized” and that the town did not trust them anymore. He said the discussion of Section 513 options was the first time they had been consulted on something in a long time.
Member Ray Torrey said that he was, personally “ready to retire” but felt that someone needed to be “watching the store.”

Land said it was “not the intent” to exclude the committee, “but I can see how that feeling would arise.” She emphasized that the project had evolved and that it was now the responsibility of the town and its contractors to make certain decisions and to set timelines. “We’ve moved from ‘how to build an island-wide network’ to ‘we’re  building it.’”
Despite what role they might take on in the future, Land said that for now the committee seemed to be working as a forum for people to bring their concerns and questions, an important role as the committee is the eyes and ears of the community.