Town to enter talks with broadband vendor

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 5:45pm
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The Block Island Broadband Committee has approved entering into contract discussions with Sertex, a Connecticut-based company specializing in building internet infrastructure, for the proposed island-wide high-speed internet project. The committee also has extended the services of Mission Broadband, which has been consulting with the committee on the island-wide broadband network.

These recommendations were forwarded to the Town Council, which approved both measures at its meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18.

Both Town Finance Director Amy Land, and IT Specialist Michele Spero, were careful to emphasize that there wasn’t, at this point, a projected cost attached to the high-speed project.

“Cost will be a consideration,” said Land. “I was hoping to have a piece of paper in front of you about cost, but I don’t.” She added that the cost of the project “will be viable.”

Land said “we do have numbers from Sertex. I understand it’s frustrating to not have the number in your head,” but said that pricing out the project is a complicated process.

The committee is targeting the next Financial Town Meeting for the final vote on the project, at which time the cost will be known and, if approved by voters, a contract will be awarded to Sertex.

The committee also approved keeping Mission Broadband, the consulting firm that has been working with the town on the high-speed project, to “assist with finalizing the design, costs, and with contract discussions in an amount not to exceed $20,000 initially,” according to the motion passed by the committee.

Land pointed out that there were unspent funds in the initial $125,000 Mission Broadband contract that exceeded the $20,000 expense and that no additional funding was needed.

The committee decided to move ahead on the contract negotiations even without hard numbers in order to keep momentum on the project.

“These steps will enable the town to move ahead with the most viable network proposal submitted by Sertex, finalize that design and its costs in preparation for presentation to the community and begin drafting contract documents,” according to a paper submitted to the committee by Land, Spero and Facilities Manager Sam Bird, who has also been assisting the committee. Sertex had performed a similar function in the build-out of the Community Anchor Institution network that connected the Island Free Library, Block Island School, the Safety Complex, Town Hall, the Highways Department and the Medical Center.

The committee, with guidance from Mission Broadband, had been analyzing the vendor responses it had received to the RFP written by Mission Broadband. Land also said at the Dec. 11 meeting that with these steps the “town is beginning to take the lead in this process” of building the high-speed network.

“They’ve been good to us, but you don’t want to put your eggs all in one basket, but it’s been a good basket,” said committee member Kristine Monje of Mission Broadband. As for approving these next steps, Monje said, “I feel good that we’re doing the right thing.”

“The big thing is cost, but we can’t get to that without taking these next steps,” said Spero.

The committee said it was essential for the project to be on the ballot at the FTM in May.

The reason for that was because the members leaned toward not wanting to hold a special town financial meeting on the project, noting that the Water Company was also holding a special meeting on its own $2.3 million water main project. The members did not want the clerk’s office to schedule and advertise two special meetings.

“It would be unfair to the clerks,” said Land.

Even if the voters do approve the project at the May FTM, how much of the island could be wired by the beginning of the 2020 season remains unknown.

“Can we do it in phases?” asked Broadband Chair Lucinda Morrison.

“It’s all or nothing,” said Land.