Broadband committee starting to look ahead

To island-wide network
Thu, 05/16/2019 - 5:30pm

As the members of the Block Island Broadband Committee put the finishing touches on the five-building Community Anchor Institution network, they are beginning to look ahead to the far more complex project of wiring the entire island.

At its most recent meeting on Thursday, May 9, Town Finance Director Amy Land said vendors for the CAI project are finishing up their documentation, and a generator for the telecom building located behind the town’s safety complex was scheduled to be delivered in early June. Receipt of that piece of equipment was “the only major component left” for the CAI project, said Land.

One of the details still to be worked out was the question of “hot spots” the new broadband network will create. These areas are designed to allow people to sign in to a public wi-fi area and use the high speed broadband network.

Land said she expected a “slow introduction to public access at Town Hall,” meaning that the public wi-fi will at first be available to the public inside the Town Council chambers, with town IT Director Michele Spero saying that it will eventually be expanded to outside the building.

“You mean to the parking lot?” asked member Ray Torrey.

“Eventually,” said Spero. “We’re building this out gradually and making sure it’s stable and works the way we want it to.”

Land added that the Island Free Library was going through the same exercise and that one of her goals would be to have a wi-fi hot spot at the Block Island School “in the summer when they’re not in session.” The school, the library and Town Hall are all in the CAI network, as are the Medical Center and the Police and Fire Departments.

Land said one of the things that needed to be kept an eye on was just how available the wi-fi network could and should be to the public.

“If we have people sitting in the chambers during the day then we might have to reduce expectations,” she said.

The group also agreed that a subcommittee should be formed that would monitor and maintain the CAI network. The idea was to have a committee comprising representatives from each of the anchor agencies so that problem-solving would be a collaborative effort.

“I would hate to see these facilities solve their problems in a vacuum,” said Land. The group suggested that the decision on forming that committee should wait until member Kristine Monje, who is also the school principal, attends the next meeting.

The group then began laying the groundwork for its next mission: the island-wide network. Its first step was to approve membership of an advocacy group called Next Century Cities, which, in a memo to the Committee, Land described as a group that “supports municipalities with advocacy, tools, education and information sharing as they seek to expand access to fast, affordable, reliable internet service.” They also approved a motion to have Town Manager Ed Roberge enroll the town in SHLB — the School, Health and Libraries Broadband coalition. On its website, SHLB describes itself as one of the leading national champions for open, affordable broadband for community anchor institutions.