Letters to the Editor, June 30, 2012
To: the Editor—
As a telecommunications professional and new island homeowner, I read with interest the June 23 story concerning the addition of fiber optic communications cables for use of the Town of New Shoreham within the undersea cable serving the Deepwater project. I commend the Town Council for taking advantage of this essential opportunity to obtain infrastructure critical to the long-term success of Block Island as a resort destination and residential community.
While Block Island’s timeless charm and rural character are essential qualities in making it a special place, the lack of an advanced communications infrastructure means that people here simply lack access to the same information age society that exists “off island.” Visiting guests cannot reliably access their office networks, stream videos, or move large files around between colleagues using their mobile devices. Put simply, these capabilities are rapidly becoming an essential minimum level of service — and tomorrow’s expectations will be even higher.
The current limitations of the telecommunications services on Block Island are directly and primarily related to the limited amount of scarce, costly microwave radio frequency spectrum that is used to link the towers on Block Island to the mainland’s telecommunications infrastructure. These links are the bottleneck in the current system — there is simply insufficient bandwidth provisioned to meet the peak needs of Block Island’s voice, mobile, and data/DSL networks, and this is why Verizon’s DSL offering on the island is so slow. With more capacity linking the island to the mainland, Verizon and others could offer higher speeds.
However, the radio link and network owners are not incentivized to spend the significant licensing and engineering costs to increase the link capacity. Assuming they wished to do so, there is an absolutely finite (and relatively small) amount of capacity that could physically be made available even if all of the licensable radio frequency spectrum were to be used and configured.
The satellite spectrum is more scarce and costly and offers no advantage — thus satellite offerings are ‘high speed’ but are severely capped as to the total amount of information that can be transferred in a billing period.
Fiber optic links will offer many orders of magnitude more capacity for a tiny fraction of the costs of microwave links, and could allow the town to consider future policies such as operating its own broadband network, making free WiFi service available to visitors and residents, or even simply offering additional transit capacity to Verizon and other telecommunications providers to introduce or improve their service offerings (e.g., increase DSL speeds,offer ‘cable’ television services, remote learning and tele-medicine offerings, etc.), all without increased the cost to ratepayers. A world-class terrestrial infrastructure would also afford opportunities to establish knowledge-based workers on island, including in the off-season.
Taking action now is absolutely essential to securing the future of this wonderful community, and the council is on the right path — hopefully by securing perpetual and fully unencumbered rights to provision and use the town fiber optic link for any purpose whatsoever.
High View Lane