Initial stages of island-wide broadband project begin

Thu, 12/17/2020 - 6:15pm

“You don’t see them, but things are happening fast and furiously,” Town Finance Director and Broadband Committee advisor Amy Land told the Town Council in a joint meeting of the Council and the Broadband Committee on Thursday, Dec. 10.

After a bond that is not to exceed $8 million was approved by the voters of New Shoreham at a Financial Town meeting in July, and later given the seal of approval by the Council in September, the roll out of the island-wide broadband project is finally under way.

What residents don’t see is the extensive engineering work currently being performed. While additional fiber optic cable is being installed as part of the backbone of the system, mapping out the routes the fibers will travel to individual homes is still being worked out. In true Block Island fashion, current utility lines don’t necessarily follow direct routes, and rights of way for those utility lines along private property are being researched. Another Block Island challenge identified by Land was “conflicting fire numbers.”

While there is a preliminary project schedule that shows the installation of lines and drop offs at homes, Land said this would be revised once the engineering is done. There is “cushion time” built into the schedule, according to Land, and one aspect of the project, the timing of National Grid’s fiber splice “is critical,” she said. This is because the underground transmission cable currently being reburied is what carries the fiber optic cables from the mainland to the island.

Another unknown is what the impact of summer visitors will be. “Another expectation we want to be clear about is how much work can be done in the summer months,” said Land. “There could be a pause for things like fiber stringing. It depends on the number of people [here].” Even with a pause over the summer though, everyone should be hooked up by the beginning of November 2021.

The company performing the installation is Sertex Broadband Solutions, and their trucks can already be seen here and there on the island. Town Facilities Coordinator Sam Bird announced that Isaac’s Corner, at the juncture of Center and Cooneymus Roads, will be used as the main staging area for the project, with various ancillary sites being used for the temporary storage of some materials, like coils of cable.

Another question Land addressed is: “Can I do something to raise my hand and say ‘I want to be a subscriber?’” This is something consumers will actually be able to do starting in mid-January. The town has selected Crocker Communications to be the internet service provider and information on various services people may choose from, including phone, internet, and television should be on their website by then.

The town is also currently working on a grant application with the USDA under a Community Connect program. Land said that it is “too early to speculate as to the success of that,” but funds awarded could be in the $2 million to $3 million range.

There may be many entities competing for that money. Due to schools across the country going online and people working from home, extending internet services is increasingly popular. Land said Sertex had been very proactive in ordering materials on a timely basis to avoid any clogs in the supply chain and she felt confident that there would be no delays in materials procurement.