Letters

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 5:00pm
Category: 

Opinions on high speed internet

To the Editor:

The Block Island Residents Association strongly endorses the island-wide broadband network and the passage of the $8 million bond issue which would finance the construction of the network.

Our reasons are straightforward:

• Verizon DSL Internet Service is horse and buggy technology. It is simply too slow and sporadic to be viable to a community that is increasingly dependent upon the internet.

• Fiber optics to premises is proven 21st century technology. Islands up and down the northeast coast have successfully installed these networks

• Satellite internet solutions are limited and expensive

• There is a current and growing demand for high speed internet:

1. Grandparents want virtual communication with family and grandchildren

2. Parents want access to modern entertainment, news media and educational services

3. Students want access to remote learning that is increasingly being required by schools

4. Year around and seasonal residents want to be able to work remotely

5. Businesses want access to efficient credit card processing and to promote their business

6. Young people want access to social media

7. Seniors want access to telemedicine services

8. Artists want access to promote their creative merchandise

• Subscribers to the Network will have flexibility in choosing what services they want — internet, telephone, TV, video streaming and more. They may choose all of the services available.

• The monthly cost to subscribers of their chosen network services will be less than what is available today

• The repayment of the $8 million bond issue is a fair and equitable split between users of the network and taxpayer funded municipal infrastructure.

BIRA urges every voter to vote Yes at the Financial Town Meeting on Monday, July 27 for the island-wide broadband network.

BIRA Board of Directors

 

To the Editor:

I hope you will support the island wide broadband network. If you vote on Block Island, please attend the July 27 town meeting and vote in favor of the broadband network. If you don’t vote on Block Island, please talk to your friends and neighbors urging them to attend and vote “yes.”

As most of us know, current Internet service is basically inadequate and very expensive. I personally get my Internet through our cell phones at a high price, low speed in the summer and with a data cap. It is harder and harder for businesses to operate, for people to work and for students to go to school without high quality Internet access. After many years of study, we have the opportunity to fix this and also, potentially, to get a Federal subsidy for the system. For most people, the proposed system will be less expensive (and much better) than current options. It is a good deal and we should move forward.

The Town has prepared a set of Frequently Asked Questions that should help understand the proposal and its benefits. I have heard some people say that there are other, more pressing needs for investment on Block Island. The broadband initiative will not preclude any of these other options. Each investment should stand on its own merits. As I understand from past discussions, Block Island is not near its debt limit, so total investment is not an issue. Since most people will save money with broadband, it means that we all have more money for other options if we want them.

I know from my own experience with the Town Meeting on the Power Company that every vote counts. Complacency can be devastating. Please either vote or get your neighbors to do so.

Thanks.

Everett Shorey

Arlington, Mass.

 

To the Editor:

I respectfully disagree with the proposed vote for the broadband proposal. I absolutely agree that broadband service is a necessary thing on Block Island and would be willing to bond funding for it, but the proposal made is not the best choice. The Broadband Committee made a major error in their initial requests for proposals in that they did not request an estimate of costs, and they rejected a proposal out of hand for an over air alternative. There were other alternatives that would be less costly and would be more flexible for the future. I was unable to attend previous meetings and apologize for not participating earlier, although I did speak to Town Officials about my concerns.

The fiber optic cable comes into a substation on the Utility District property which is a short distance from the telecommunications tower; there is space on the tower for other broadcast uses as well as upgrade by the operating mobile carriers. Probably within two years one or more of the cell carriers will upgrade to G5, which will be much faster and would allow more data use for television and internet. One possibility is to subsidize one of the carriers to provide the whole Island with service by using repeater stations, as is done for electric and water metering now. Another possibility is a hybrid system with fiber optic cable and then broadcast. A future possibility would be the Elon Musk proposal for greatly improved satellite transmission. It appears the broadband committee did not allow for these options to be considered in their initial requests for proposals.

I will not be able to attend the Financial Town meeting on July 27 because of previous commitments, but ask that the proposal be rejected and that other options be considered by the Broadband Committee.

Respectfully submitted,

Elliot Taubman

Calico Hill

 

To the Editor:

How often have you heard a reference to the “Block Island factor” — that unexpected glitch in what should be the best laid plans? I present you with just another example of the same today — trying to rally community support for an incredibly important vote to fund true sustainable Broadband Internet service to all island premises in the midst of a global pandemic that has precluded so much interaction all these months.

No public gatherings where we can come together and engage in informative dialogue with the Town’s Broadband Committee, a dedicated group of people who started out in early 2014 as an informal working group and have worked tirelessly ever since. No opportunity for back and forth at Town Council meetings as the search for the right technology solution for the island proceeded to its current readiness. Social distancing has eliminated opportunities to personally recount the history of this work, the bumps incurred along the road to today, and the lengthy investigations into all possible options that were researched. In this new era of Covid 19 we have Zoom’s unsatisfactory “interaction” through a screen, the written word devoid of the passion behind it, the Town Council Resolution and various ads posted to garner support and explanation.

In this climate it’s hard to explain all that has transpired since the early stages of this quest — originally an attempt to push Verizon to exert an effort to improve the island’s frustrating DSL. At the beginning, Block Island didn’t even have speeds that met the Federal Communications Commission definition of “broadband.” When Verizon made it clear that no entity was going to lay fiber to the island because of the prohibitive cost, the town successfully negotiated with Deepwater Wind — and ultimately with National Grid — to receive the use of eight strands of the fiber that was in the underground cable being laid for the wind project. Negotiating for that fiber was a game changer that allowed the town to consider the possibility of creating its own network. But for the social constraints the virus has imposed, there would be a greater opportunity to explain all the grant opportunities that have been investigated and applied for over the last many years — FCC grants for broadband, USDA Rural Broadband grants, OSHEAN’s BTOP grant, state support — but each time we fell short for a variety of reasons.

And that brings us to today — with a great opportunity to secure an FCC Rural Digital Opportunity grant that will provide up to $3.2 million over 10 years to help defer the cost of building and operating a broadband network. With this grant, the monthly costs to the individual households that have been provided on the website for exponentially better Internet and additional opportunities is more than reasonable. The final piece of this application process, for which the island is uniquely suited, requires a showing of strong commitment from the Town to build our network… and the grant deadline is in weeks. Hence, the push for an affirmative vote at this Financial Town Meeting which, of course, collides with a global pandemic—the “Block Island factor” in spades.

Absent the personal touch that could convey the effort, the passion and the disappointment experienced at so many turns in the long effort to bring to the island the level of Internet service we all desire and that “America” has in so many locations, there is no choice but to ask for this vote now. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed…we’ve gotten used to successfully facing down the “Block Island Factor” in the past…this is just another time. Please READ all the materials supplied, ASK questions in any fashion you can, try to envision the effort and passion of all who got us to this point—and then put on a mask and come vote for our future under the stars (there will be an outside area) on Monday, July 27.

Nancy Dodge

(Town Manager 2000-2016)

 

To the Editor:

For nearly five years, Block Island has been primed for broadband internet access. In 2016, Deepwater Wind completed the installation of a fiber-optic cable from mainland Rhode Island to their site at Town Beach. Essential town buildings have already been connected: the Block Island School, Medical Center, Police Station, Town Hall, and Town Library. The only thing left to do is to link it to the rest of the community, which will necessitate the installation of fiber-optic cables to island residences and businesses. I’d like to share the results of some research I’ve done recently regarding broadband.

While the cost of the initiative is $8 million, its outcomes are of immeasurable value. Investing in broadband is not a one-time product purchase, it is the building of a business owned by the town. If we outsourced this project and had a mainland company build it, we would give up financial control and allow another business to profit off of our island’s essential needs. Doing it ourselves grants us sovereignty over a self-amortizing system: an investment that gradually pays itself off. The current projection has us breaking even in 10 years, but with increased reliance on internet connection and services this could be an overestimate. The upfront fee of $8 million could be offset over time by a variety of factors: a federal grant opportunity of up to $3.2 million this fall, historically low interest rates to finance the balance, and subscription fees. Hotels, rentals, marinas, etc., would all have the ability to charge guests for high speed internet as you would pay for at an airport terminal or mainland hotel.

My family’s current internet and TV costs are $189/month combined. Here’s the breakdown: We’ve chosen one of the better Verizon internet plans in hopes that it would offer a quicker and more consistent connection (spoiler: it doesn’t) — it costs $89/month. With Verizon, our maximum upload speed is a useless .128mbps, and our download speed is a paltry .768mbps. That being said, Verizon boasts a minimum of 200mbsp upload and download speed for all available plans. We all pay the full price for a service that is at least 1/260th of its marketed efficacy. Our DirectTV bill is roughly $100, which accounts for a basic channel plan and the hardware lease of their satellite boxes. So, a total of $189 a month, for a very basic TV plan and internet that doesn’t work.

With broadband, there would be an island-wide tax that would be $23/month fee per $1,000,000 house — you’d pay this whether you subscribe to broadband services or not. As a subscriber, there is a baseline fee for system upkeep that is $32/ month. Your foundation cost would be $55/ month. From that monthly $55 cost, you’d choose a plan that best suits your needs. Most would likely opt for the 50/50 plan, with 50mbps upload/download speeds — costing $30, give or take a few cents. Then, to compensate for not having DirectTV, you’d pick out some streaming services. If you prefer live TV, maybe you’d choose Hulu’s Live TV package — it costs $60.99/ month for 60 of the most popular channels and all of Hulu’s normal streaming selection. That’d bring up your monthly total to $145.99. I would personally just pick out a few streaming services, as the vast majority of shows on live TV are now streamable. You can bundle Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ for $12.99/month, and I’d keep my Netflix subscription, which is also $12.99/month. So, my total would be $110.98/month. The cost to keep a physical phone line in the house would be $20/month — my family doesn’t need a home phone anymore, but I think we’d keep the phone line to have a home security system installed — another great perk of reliable internet. With Hulu’s Live TV service, the grand total would come to $165.99/month. Without the Live TV service, it would be $130.98/month.

But here’s the thing: it’s neither the streaming services nor the changes of TV channel options and home phone lines that matter here. Broadband will bolster the island’s ability to foster a vibrant economy and school system in the present and future, and will make online resources accessible to islanders and visitors alike. The world is changing, and in certain ways, Block Island must change with it. Ensuring an effective internet connection here is just one of those non-negotiable “musts;” voting for broadband is a no-brainer. Over the years, so many of our summer renters have been dumbfounded by the wifi we offered, “Is it on? Is it actually working? Why is it so slow?” A 21st century workforce relies on dependable and quick internet, even on vacation. Refusing a broadband connection is to damn the future of our entire community.

Technology is a tie that binds. In light of the pandemic, the Block Island School went fully online, as did the Town Council and all other day-to-day communications. Please, speak to any parent who had a child studying remotely on the island this spring—ask them how dealing with the internet was. Ask any business owner or employee how they feel about island internet when they have to process credit cards on a server with a .128mbps upload speed. Ask anybody who exclusively works from home on an online platform if they would choose to live on Block Island with our existing technological infrastructure. Drive past the library today and notice everyone working outside — anyone sitting on the lawn with a laptop is lacking usable internet somewhere else on the island, whether it be their home, rental, hotel, or marina. Remember that Block Island is not simply a place to “unplug,” and that we are a bustling community of scholars, tradespeople, healthcare workers, artists, scientists, educators, and more—all of whom will continue to rely partly or fully on remote correspondence and labor for decades to come. Island youth, rising businesspeople, and countless others will agree that this is a necessary step in ensuring quality education and viable employment opportunities as the years roll on.

Please vote for broadband on Monday, July 27 at 7 p.m. at the Block Island School.

Thea Monje

Block Island School ‘15

Brown University ‘19

 

Unsettling encounter

To the Editor:

We have been doing quiet peaceful walks through town on Thursday evenings to express solidarity with the Black community and our desire to do the work so we can all live together in an anti racist world with justice and equity.

For the most part we have been greeted with good and thoughtful energy. This past Thursday, the positive support was drowned out by a handful of aggressive visitors, culminating with a man on Dodge Street who yelled “make segregation good again” along with a large amount of misinformation and racist slurs. This was both disheartening and alarming, and it made clear that many of those visiting our beautiful island and community harbor a depth of historical misinformation and ill will towards people living in scenarios other than their own.

Arguing in the street with visibly intoxicated tourists is the last thing we want to be doing. However, it did make it clear that some ignorance is both deep and flamboyant and this makes it all the more important that our message be heard.

We need to come out in larger numbers with strength, beauty and peace. Please join us on Thursdays at the four corners at 6 p.m. to walk to Rebecca and back and keep the conversation happening. For those of you not comfortable walking down Water Street, please make signs and join us in your vehicles.

Sincerely,

Christy Zendt,

on behalf of Block Island Anti-Racist Friends

 

Enforce mask wearing

To the Editor:

I am a young adult who has been known to wear a backpack, although never with bottles of liquor in it. I am also a lifelong resident of Block Island, and I both resemble and resent Chief Vin Carlone’s remarks during the Town Council meeting of June 24 and further in the July 4 paper. I am also appalled that the priority of protecting our uniquely vulnerable community from COVID-19 seems to be an active point of contention.

Before I say anything else, I am not a police officer and do not have the same knowledge and experiences as one. It is not my place to tell Chief Carlone how to do his job. But it also seems to me that COVID-19 should be the pinnacle of dangers that loom over us all. How we deal with hypothetical liquor-toting millennials and the demographics of visitors to Block Island should be informed by and involved with how we work as a community to limit the presence of COVID-19 on our island. Pushing COVID-19 to the back burner seems to be a sure way to get people sick.

Regardless of any attempts to politicize the discussion, the fact remains that wearing masks in public is essential to limit the spread of COVID-19. Many people who visit Block Island on a temporary basis are not thinking about the fact that we don’t have a hospital or that many year-round residents are of higher risk for COVID-19. I know I would be horrified to know that my negligence had hurt someone, but I can’t say that holds true for everyone who comes to the island.

The consequences for refusing to wear a mask in public have been established, and these consequences need to be enforced, including police involvement if required. We need to work together as a community to make the island safe for everyone instead of stereotyping certain groups as undesirables. If it’s made clear that COVID-19 enforcement is taken seriously and that you can and will be fined, people who have no interest in thinking about others will have nothing to do with us anyway.

Isabelle duPont

Beacon Hill

 

Disappointed in the School Committee

To the Editor:

I was disappointed and disturbed by the School Committee’s attitude toward the Block Island School teachers as reported in this week’s article, “School Committee struggles with salary, cuts.” The teachers’ association and the school committee just ratified a three-year contract in October with very modest increases over the three-year contract period. If you look at national data you will find that in the mid-90s, teachers earned 2 to 3 percent less than other professionals with similar education. Now that income gap is about 20 percent, which is why our country is experiencing teacher shortages.

We are in trying times, and the past school year was certainly trying for students, parents, teachers, administrators, and staff. Switching to virtual education with inadequate internet and no training was a daunting task, but it was accomplished. Teachers put in a lot of extra time to figure this out and brainstorm ways to improve instruction. The coming school year poses many more challenges as well, including complying with state mandates for plans for reopening while cases of COVID-19 are increasing. This is going to be a stressful year for teachers. They are going to be tasked with coming up with creative solutions for new problems as well as complying with new state mandates. Is this the year to cut their salaries?

I also have questions about the predicted shortfall. Property taxes haven’t decreased, the harbors are full, rental business is brisk, real estate sales are up, and people are obviously here.

I am sure there are expenses in the school budget that can be trimmed. If we are honest about our current situation, there is no way we can have interscholastic sports until we have a vaccine. I hate to cut sports but I don’t see how any school could safely participate. Maybe this isn’t the year to hire a top step second math teacher? There are other solutions. Why are our litigation expenses so high? That certainly can’t be blamed on the teachers. The increase due to teacher salaries is a minute part of the overall budget.

Finally, I’ve worked in the school when there was mutual respect and trust between the school committee, administrators, and teachers and staff, and I’ve worked there when that critical chemistry was absent. It’s no surprise which situation provides the best education for our children.

I would ask that the school committee and administrators work on developing a more positive and constructive attitude toward teachers, improving communication, and demonstrating respect and understanding that teaching during these times is especially difficult.

John Warfel (yes, retired teacher)

Dunn Town Road

 

A successful Blood Drive

To the Editor:

I have wonderful Blood Drive news. First, 40 people presented themselves and, secondly, we received 34 donations. It has been a long time since we have seen such a wonderful response. The Blood Center team that was here was delighted, as you would expect. The COVID-19 pandemic affects the daily blood inventory from a five to six day supply to a one to two day supply. 

These times are desperate and, as so often happens, Block Island has come through. First, there are some extremely faithful blood donors. You know who you are. Great thanks to you. Thanks also to the donation team and truck driver who must get up very early to make the first boat. And thanks to Interstate Navigation and the Block Island School. What a team!

Our next blood drive will occur on Thursday, Sept. 10. Hope to see you there.

Peter Greenman, Coordinator

Rhode Island Blood Center

 

To the Editor:

The Block Island Lions Club held its annual July Golf Tournament at the Richmond Country Club on Monday, July 13. There were 70 golfers who enjoyed a perfect day of 18 holes of golf.

We would like to thank Interstate Navigation, who once again donated all the round trip tickets to our players. Their generosity enabled us to continue to keep the cost of the tournament reasonable and in turn, gives us more money toward scholarships.

Thank you to the other businesses who either tee-sponsored or gave complimentary gift certificates: New England Airlines, Block Island Oyster Bar & Grill, BI Plumbing & Heating, Star Dept. Store, Ballard Hall, BI Realty, Sullivan Real Estate, Phillips Real Estate, Beach Real Estate, Heinz Group, 401-H20, North Atlantic Builders, Stix-man Construction, Doug Michel Construction, Jarrosak Woodwrights, Red Bird, Mike Tripp, CPA, Sarah Szabo--N.Y. Life, Billeri & McGarry Insurance, Arnold Lumber, and BI Recycling Management. Your continued support is appreciated.

All proceeds benefit the scholarship fund. Each year the Lions Club awards one or two graduating seniors of the Block Island School a scholarship, which will continue for three additional years if the student remains in good academic standing.

If you would like to join us for the September 14 tournament, please contact either Gary Delaney, Rob Closter, Chelsea Redd or Mary Lawless.

Michele Phelan, Chair

Block Island Lions Club Golf Committee