CAI network to go live in March

Says Broadband Committee in report
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 7:30pm

The long-anticipated launch of a Community Anchor Institution broadband network on Block Island is only weeks away. 

According to a report issued by the New Shoreham Broadband Committee to the Town Council on Jan. 31, the target “go live” date of the CAI network is between March 1 and March 15, 2019. The report states that installation of the $675,000 project is underway, and “remains on budget,” and a “solid foundation” has been laid to expand to an island-wide broadband network.

The report was drafted by Finance Director Amy Land, IT Manager Michele Spero, and Facilities Manager Sam Bird for the Town Council’s Feb. 4 meeting.

The report states that the Broadband Committee is looking at public access points to the CAI network. The Island Free Library is referenced as a public access point due to high traffic during the summer season, and, “Subject to funding and resource availability, staff is exploring other low cost deployment options to provide public access points at other CAI network sites this summer while maintaining the security and integrity of this special use network.”

The CAI project involves connecting to network sites at the Public Safety Building, Town Hall, Island Free Library, Block Island School, and the Medical Center, utilizing four of eight strands of fiber embedded in National Grid’s sea2shore cable. The town is leasing the fiber from National Grid for $1 per year for 20 years. 

The report noted that the foundations for the telecommunication building, the 230-square foot structure that will contain the network’s equipment and its attendant generator pad, have been poured.

Delivery of the $214,778 prefabricated building is scheduled for mid-February. It will be located behind the New Shoreham Police Department.

“The fiber optic cable has been ordered and received; stringing of fiber on island is expected to occur February 11th - 22nd. Replacement of one pole is now scheduled for Feb. 2. All other pole make ready work is finished and attachment licenses should be issued as soon as that transfer is complete,” the report states.

“On the mainland, the network infrastructure has been constructed between Dillon’s Corner and Tyler Hall at the University of Rhode Island (OSHEAN’s Colocation Facility) and National Grid is scheduling the splice of the mainland fiber to the subsea cable.”

“Dialogue is ongoing with National Grid regarding easements and initial splicing to the island end of the subsea cable.

Grid desires ownership of conduit and the hand hole in the Police Station lawn as a demarcation point for the Town’s fiber and as a location where future third parties could connect to Grid’s other fiber strands. The Town is negotiating with National Grid to ensure an outcome that protects the Town’s fiber interests and is consistent with the Fiber Use Agreement.”

Bird told The Times that the Broadband Committee and town officials are “working hard on a resolution now so that there are not any lingering concerns into the future” regarding National Grid’s ownership of those components of the infrastructure. 

As for the proposed island-wide network, the report notes that, “A working group of the Broadband Committee is currently drafting the first Request For Proposal to solicit technical consulting assistance.

This assistance is critical to the crafting of a successful RFP for design and construction of the island wide network. Review of the draft RFP and discussion of timelines for the island wide project are planned for the Broadband Committee’s February 14th meeting.”

The committee encourages the public to attend its Thursday, Feb. 14 meeting at 3:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

Cable exposure issue

One issue that could impact installation and operation of a broadband network on the island is National Grid’s exposed cable off the Town Beach. Due to hard seabed and shifting sands the sea2shore cable became exposed, and addressing it could lead to a shutdown for a period of time while National Grid addresses the issue. The cable connects the island to the mainland grid.

“The cable between Block Island and the mainland has fiber optics within it as an integral component, consequently any disruption to the cable as a whole would have some affect on the fiber connection to the mainland,” said Bird. “Currently, the cable has insufficient burial depth in the shore and near-shore area at Crescent Beach. National Grid and Deepwater Wind are currently and collaboratively performing subsurface soils investigation to determine options and methods for correcting the burial depth. To date there has been insufficient data gathered to design a solution and exploration continues. Regardless of the solution devised the fiber will remain fully functional.”

Michael Masseur, spokesperson for National Grid, said, “We do not expect our work will have any impact on the town's initial installation schedule.”

As for the status of the cable, Masseur said, “We are in the process of analyzing the findings from the first phase of surveys. The second phase of the survey work is underway with the land-based soil borings having been completed in the last couple of weeks, and additional marine-based soil borings expected to begin in the near future, weather-dependent. We and Ørsted” — owners of the Block Island Wind Farm — “continue to discuss potential long-term solutions, which we’ll present, along with the survey findings, to the local agencies and the town in the weeks ahead.”