Town priming poles for broadband project

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 8:45am

The New Shoreham Town Council took a step toward paving the path for the town’s installation of a community anchor institution broadband network.

At its meeting on March 21, the council voted unanimously to authorize Town Manager Ed Roberge to execute pole attachment licensing agreements with Verizon and the Block Island Power Company. Verizon and BIPCo each own 50 percent of the telephone poles on Block Island where the fiber optic cable will be strung. 

The pole attachment agreements with Verizon and BIPCo will include the leasing of approximately 77 poles along the CAI route. While BIPCo’s fee has not yet been determined, Verizon’s fee is $425 per year to lease those poles. The town will need to issue an insurance rider and surety bond in the amount of $75,000.

The pole attachments will accommodate the fiber optic cable that will connect the town’s anchor institutions to the fiber optic strands in National Grid’s sea2shore cable. The town’s anchor institutions are the Block Island School, Medical Center, Island Free Library, public safety building and the New Shoreham Town Hall.  

Roberge said due to actions taken by the town and the Broadband Committee, over the past month, the CAI project “is advancing at a rapid pace.” He said the pole licensing agreements should be executed with the two entities so a “constrained schedule” can be maintained to connect the town’s anchor institutions to National Grid’s sea2shore cable by September of 2018. 

Councilor Sven Risom urged Roberge and the Broadband Committee to think more broadly than just the community anchor institutions when looking at solving the island’s broadband needs. “While this is really focused on the community anchor institutions, I want to make sure it’s applied across the Island for future applications, versus having to go back and do it again,” he said.

“I’m glad you brought that up, because I was going to suggest that as well,” said Roberge. “Where you’re authorizing staff to look at pole licensing and attachment agreements for this first phase, the same action would be required for the larger part of it. So if the town council is so inclined, you can state (in the motion) that this would apply to future pole attachments as the project expands.”

The council as a whole seemed to agree with Risom, and included the language in its motion.

“The frustration I have, as I’ve said a couple of times before — is that this should be the beginning of a larger program across the island,” said Risom. “And I’m hearing evidence that this would be a project in and of itself, and then worry about the rest of the island later.” Risom said his request to the town manager and Broadband Committee would be “to continue to think about the Island at-large.”

“I want to echo what Sven said,” said Second Warden André Boudreau, reiterating consideration of a future island-wide connection. “The only question I had was: why don’t we have a fee yet from BIPCo?”

“That’s in the process of being developed,” said Roberge, who noted that the staff was working with BIPCo President Jeffery Wright on the estimated cost for licensing BIPCo’s share of the poles.

“Would we expect BIPCo to be lower than Verizon?” asked Boudreau.

“BIPCo is a community partner,” said Roberge, intimating that the cost should be lower than Verizon. “I think it’s fair to say that. We’re working very closely with BIPCo on this.”

Resident Ray Torrey asked Roberge if the insurance certificate and surety bond would be “refundable to the town.”

“That’s typical with utilities in terms of working around their infrastructure,” said Roberge. “So the insurance requirement would just be a certificate from our existing carrier. I don’t see that there would be a charge for the bonding amount. It would be borne by the project.”

Chris Warfel asked if the pole attachment licensing agreement would limit the town to working exclusively with Verizon for its “wireless or broadband options.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste deferred to Finance Director Amy Land for an answer to that question. Land said, “It does not require us to business partner with Verizon in any way. We’re free to partner with anyone that we choose.”

Risom informed the assemblage that the cleaning up of old cable should be noted as part of the “make-ready work” that needs to be done to prime the poles for building the network. “That cable needs to be disposed of,” he said, “as the project expands around the island.” 

“It’s on the more remote corners of the island,” said Risom, noting that one of the previous owners of BIPCo, Cliff McGinnes, Sr., should be consulted about it. “It’s on a lot of poles.”

“I can assure you that we will vigorously evaluate the make-ready estimates, and the work,” said Roberge. “We will make sure that is noted.”