Broadband work to go underground for summer
Crews performing aerial work for the island-wide broadband installation will be largely pausing their work on main roads in mid-June for the summer due to traffic and safety concerns. For the past couple weeks, crews have been trying to beat the rush by concentrating in the downtown areas. Underground installations of conduit will be ongoing over the summer though.
Town Finance Director Amy Land, who has been working on all the nitty-gritty details of the broadband project, told the Broadband Committee at its meeting on May 19 that the island has been divided into FSAs, fiber service areas, or “hubs,” and that those at the end of “the Neck” are almost ready to be put into service, hopefully in July.
Approximately 800 of 1600 installations of underground conduit have been completed, and although summer housing has been secured for crews, Land said she is still managing equipment and supply chain issues. Covid has also been a factor as the virus prevented some of the “makeready work” needed on some remaining utility poles over the past couple of weeks.
“Considering what’s going on in the world … we’re doing pretty good,” said committee Chair Lucinda Morrison.
For those that missed the “deadline” of April 30 to sign their properties up for broadband “drops,” - not the service itself, there is still time. Land had meant to send certified letters to those property owners that did not respond, but she said the list she has “doesn’t feel accurate,” so she is still working on it.
Of the details that need to be completed before customers can receive service, one is finalizing the pricing for the various packages, which include phone and internet at various levels of strength.
One component of the pricing is the charge for operations and maintenance of the system, a shared cost that is not very predictable. “I expect we’ll get that number wrong,” said Land, explaining that the number will be reset each year.
For those who follow the way the Block Island Power Company must set and reconcile rates, the process is similar, although it is not reviewed or regulated by the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities. Basically, future costs must be estimated, and then after the period of time is up, the estimates are compared to actual costs and adjusted
up or down as necessary.
“Certain things come back to us a town,” said Land, adding “there are not a lot of benchmarks.”
Block Island is, after all, the first town in the state to install a municipal broadband system.
For those who want to maintain a “landline” for a telephone, there will be some changes. Your phone will now be “digital” and will not be operational during a power outage unless it is connected to a battery back-up system.
Land said another element that needs to be reworked is the E-911, emergency calling system. In the case of a power or cable problem that affects the fiber optic lines, the E 911 system will need to work on a micro-wave back-up. “There will be three levels of redundancy for the E-911 program,” Land said.
“What about security systems?” asked committee member Kristine Monje.
Land said that calls from security systems don’t go “directly to dispatch anymore,” as they used to, and that people with security monitoring should talk with their providers.