Sertex making slow but steady progress

Hopes to speed up soon
Thu, 09/30/2021 - 2:30pm

Sertex has quietly been operating on Block Island all summer long, but will soon be gearing up for a post-summer burst of activity installing broadband on Block Island.

Block Island will be the first community in Rhode Island to install a municipal broadband network, but Sertex has installed networks in several towns in Massachusetts, particularly in under-served rural communities in the Berkshires.
The Block Island Times sat down with Sertex Vice President of Operations, Shawn Harmon, who is also serving as the project manager for Block Island, to see just where the project is at, and where it is going in the immediate future. After all, summer is over, and with less traffic on the roads, construction can resume in force.

There have been obstacles other than traffic and lack of housing for workers. Harmon estimates there are just over 1800 properties on the island that potentially can be hooked up, although he says, surprisingly, “a few hundred” have not yet signed up.

Many homes on the island have buried, underground utilities, and it is required for all new construction. Thus, Sertex has been installing its conduit underground where it can.

As of last week, Harmon said that conduit to approximately 400 homes has been installed so far. These are all underground and the conduit goes from the utility pole to the house, but not actually into it. That will come later, after Sertex meets with the homeowner to go over the installation

But, many properties – Harmon estimates there are 300 - need permits from either or both the Department of Environmental Management or the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council. He told The Times that the town hired an environmental biologist to identify them and as a result, there are 100 properties that need DEM permits because of wetlands, and 200 that need CRMC permits because of their distance from a coastal waterway. Where wetlands buffers can not be adhered to, erosion management will be instituted.

Both agencies will be issuing a “blanket” permit for the project, but still, a lot of research is required and Harmon says the DEM, especially, is working surprisingly quickly.

The obstacle that seems to have surprised Sertex the most though is the number of private roads on the island. Since many homeowners may share or use the same private road, it must be determined if, and from whom, permission must be sought as the grantor of the particular right of way must sign off on the installation plan.

Each homeowner must also sign off on the installation of the underground conduit, but does not need to be present when it takes place. Harmon reported that Morgan Jeane, the Sertex representative on the island, has told him: “So far, to date, it’s been a pleasure to deal with Block Island homeowners,” who are happy about the construction.
For those who will have overhead fiber installations, it will be a one-step process of stringing the line from the utility pole directly to the home.

Several people have requested additional fiber drops for accessory buildings or second residences on their property, according to Harmon. As for the price, it will parallel the specifications Sertex provided to the town for purposes of pricing out its contract for installation. The first drop to each property is free.
Those who choose to wait until later to add another drop will likely have to pay more as extra transportation costs will be involved.

Harmon says that with 15,000 installations under Sertex’s belt, its workers have plenty of experience in meeting with homeowners to plan the best routes for their fiber to take within a residence. There is a box outside the home, called an NID (Network Interface Device) that connects via wire to a box inside called an ONT (Optical Network Terminal) that is approximately four-by-eight inches.

The inside box can either be directly opposite the outside box or up to 50 feet away. Installers will attempt to string the wire inside the walls – often the path will follow the current telephone and/or television cables by going down to the basement (if there is one) and then up into another
When will Block Island actually get service? That is the great unknown at this time. Sertex hopes to begin signing people on in December, but that all depends on when they can actually string the lines on the utility poles.

The poles must go through a “make-ready” process by both the Block Island Power Company, and Verizon. (They share 50/50 ownership of the poles but union contracts prevent BIPCo from performing any pole work for Verizon.) Both companies must also sign off on license agreements to let Sertex use each pole.

Harmon said: “Jeff [Wright] and BIPCo have been a delight to work with,” and most of the licensing and make-ready work has been performed. “They’ve shown their true colors in backing this project.”

Verizon though is lagging. Sertex submits requests for the licensing as they get other things in order, and they are starting with the northern end of the island. Harmon said that although Verizon is releasing some licenses, it’s not in the order that Sertex has submitted them. Still, he expects the north end licenses to to be released soon so that by the end of October or the beginning of November, the aerial crews can start doing their work.