Broadband update

Wed, 12/29/2021 - 7:30am
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John Dougherty of Mission Broadband was on-hand at the Town Council meeting on December 6 to give an update on Block Island’s broadband project. Verizon is still holding up the permitting and licensing process, with only 50 percent of the pole licenses approved, according to Dougherty. Verizon must grant the licenses in order for fiber to be attached to the telephone poles. Dougherty said he hoped Verizon would grant the remaining licenses by the end of the month. Once the licenses are granted, Dougherty says Sertex can “run the lines.” By contrast, BIPCo has granted all of its required licenses for the pole work.

Dougherty reported that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management had granted the blanket permit for the island, and the Coastal Resource Management Council had the town’s application for its blanket permit in process. He hoped the CRMC permit would come through by the end of the month as well. Finance Director Amy Land explained to the Broadband Committee at its December meeting that this was the first time DEM and CRMC had granted “blanket” permits, which will cover the entire island. Typically, a permit is granted for each individual property rather than for an entire municipality. Land said the permitting work being done on Block Island was “laying the groundwork” for other communities.
Dougherty told the council that the next steps were to establish contracts with the various providers. Crocker Communications will be the internet service provider. Land told the Broadband Committee that Crocker is “the face the customer sees,” and will deal with billing, troubleshooting, and customer support. The transport contract will go to Oshean Inc., which will provide data transportation to the mainland. The network operator contract will go to Sertex, and Land explained that Sertex would deal with the physical assets of the network, and would do the physical
repairs when necessary.
The Broadband Committee had asked Jeffrey Wright of BIPCo to be in attendance on December 2, to see if BIPCo would be able to take on any of the work, and he told the group BIPCo could eventually take over some of these roles in the future. Discussing maintenance on the lines, especially during weather events, Wright said, “We can put the wires back up, but we have to have someone to actually splice the wire.” Mentioning that in many co-op type of utility districts, the utility company also handles internet service, Wright said that his company might be able to take over the broadband service someday. “We should continue these conversations,” he said.

The Town Council approved the contract with Oshean, Inc. to provide the data transport, and the contracts for Crocker and Sertex are in the works, according to Land. The contract with Oshean is for five years, with Town Manager Maryanne Crawford telling the council that the company originally wanted a ten-year contract.