Broadband vendor list narrowed down

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 6:15pm
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The members of the Broadband Committee, on the advice of its consulting firm, narrowed down the number of vendors that could help design and install an island-wide high speed internet network.

The three vendors that made the final cut are: RedioLED, an Austrian company; Iron Trust, a Providence-based company that showed competency in several key areas in design and implementation; and Sertex, the Connecticut-based company that has some familiarity with the island due to its involvement with the Community Anchor Institution network that was installed earlier this year.

The choices were based on an analysis made by Mission Broadband, which was hired by the town to help craft the Request For Proposals for possible vendors. A total of seven vendors responded, four of which were eliminated for various reasons by the Mission Broadband team.

Each vendor was ranked in eight categories covering physical plant, electronics, dark fiber design and implementation, the ability to connect to service providers, their ability to operate the network and their ability to provide wi-fi services.

The intent of the RFP that Mission Broadband wrote was to appeal to vendors that would allow them to “come up with a network design that could distribute broadband to every home and every business on Block Island,” said company president Jim Rogers.

While the RFP was specific in the kind of network design it felt the island needs, Rogers said that “the Mission Broadband design was not the only design that vendors could consider. They could have a new option or a hybrid option. We wrote the RFP intentionally to be open. They could come up with a new or novel concept for what the folks on Block Island could consider.”

Mission Broadband took three weeks to review the vendor RFP responses. “We went beyond just what they said and looked into their solutions and their technology,” said Rogers. “We pored through their proposals. Would it work? Was it feasible. Did it meet the requirements?”

“We ranked hundreds of variables within the RFP,” Rogers said, “and added them up and averaged them.”

One thing Mission Broadband did not consider at this point, said Rogers, was cost. The reason was that he did not want the members of the Broadband Committee to look first at the vendor with the lowest cost, when that company might not provide the best services for the island.

“The final cost of the project was taken off the table to avoid looking at the RFP with the lowest cost,” said Rogers.

The three vendors on the final list could also be hired to perform various tasks needed to get the network up and running.

“The vendors could be mixed and matched for certain services,” said town IT director Michelle Spero.

What is also not known at this point is how many families and individuals will sign up to have high-speed internet delivered to their home, said Rogers, who added that people could sign up immediately after the network is installed or wait months or even years to sign up.

What is also not known is how much the individual “drops,” or connections to each home will cost, given that some homes are located right off the road, while some are in more isolated locations.

When Town Finance Director Amy Land was asked if it was too early to ask these questions, Land said “it’s not too presumptuous to ask the question, but it is premature to presume we have the answers.”

When Rogers asked the Broadband group to choose among the ranked vendors, the members initially balked, thinking they did not have enough information.

“If you just want us to pick who has the highest scores then you don’t need us to do that,” said member Steve Record. “I don’t have enough information to make a rational judgement.”

The Mission Broadband representatives then went through a brief synopsis of each vendor, what services they provided and what their competency levels were.

In the case of RadioLED, the Austrian company, the group learned that it was not yet licensed in the United States, but was taking steps to earn that licensing. Despite that, the company made the short list of possible vendors due to its novel approach of getting high-speed internet to each home. In its review, Mission Broadband wrote: “RadioLED proposes to construct an island-wide broadband network using wi-fi multipoints, leveraging available fiber from the CAI-network to connect some of these devices with direct fiber. The term multipoints is used to describe the RadioLED access points proposed… RadioLED’s solution proposes installation of an estimated 133 multipoints to provide sufficient coverage and capacity throughout the island. Since the proposed solution is based on wi-fi, there is not a need to attach an antenna to each structure in order to terminate and distribute the signal within the structure.”

“I would be very disappointed not to give them consideration,” said Record.

While the company is being considered, Spero said if it looked as though it would take years for RadioLED to get its licensing in the U.S., then the town would have to move on.

While the Iron Trust RFP response was limited in its scope, the members and Mission Broadband felt it should be considered based on what it could provide.

“Mission Broadband’s review of the Iron Trust network proposal revealed a clear and concise proposal that followed the requested format for RFP responses. The solution includes great scalability as well as the ability to provide active Ethernet solutions out of the island-side [dense wavelength division multiplexing] system for direct transport of customer circuits to the Data Center or to other accessible providers within the Data Center in Providence,” the report stated.

As for Sertex, “Mission Broadband’s review of this proposal reveals a comprehensive and detailed turnkey approach to satisfy all of the components of the RFP. The proposal contains detailed pricing and information for each section of the RFP, including proposed costs for connecting to each structure regardless of the length and type of drop (aerial vs. buried), comprehensive pricing and details for all aspect of the island aggregation electronics, including options for different types of network termination equipment, and clear options for connecting to service providers on the mainland.”

Of the three possible vendors, Mission Broadband Vice President John Doherty said, “It’s a short list but it’s a creative list if you want to mix and match.”

The next Broadband Committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. at Town Hall.