Broadband suffers a setback

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 5:45pm
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The Town of New Shoreham Broadband Committee had hoped to have a website up and running by mid-January where residents could go to review product offerings and sign up early for services. At the committee’s meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7 it was announced that the website was still being built. New Shoreham IT Coordinator Michelle Spero said: “It looks like an end of January launch.”

While the numbers aren’t set in stone, information provided in July 2020 in advance of the Financial Town Meeting when voters approved the $8 million project presented pricing on various tiers of service being considered. The numbers were presented as both year-round, and for four-month seasonal service.

The three basic tiers are for telephone and internet service. In all cases, telephone services will be $19.95 per month when internet is also chosen. If customers want phone services only, the cost will be $24.95 per month.

The internet packages are based on three different bandwidth speeds: 25/25 Mbps, 50/50 Mbps, and 100/100 Mbps, where Mbps stands for megabits per second. The higher the speed, the faster the download and upload times for files are, especially video.

For most small households, 25/25 will be adequate if only one to two “concurrent devices’ are being used. The cost for that will be $24.95 per month. It is enough bandwidth to support normal internet browsing, email, Skype, Zoom, educational courses and telemedicine.

The next tier, 50/50, at $29.95 per month, will allow video to be streamed on three to four concurrent devices. The highest tier, 100/100, at $39.95 per month, will allow for “multiple simultaneous devices/ users.” It is also the speed recommended for “critical business connectivity.”

In addition to the telephone and internet prices, there is a monthly Town of New Shoreham operation and maintenance fee of $32. The town has proposed waiving installation fees for initial subscribers.

Another setback involves the selection of a Project Manager to oversee the buildout. When a request for proposals was issued, there were two responses, and Mission Broadband was selected for the role, with the Town Council approving the contract at its meeting on Dec. 7. However, on Jan. 7, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford reported that after the contract with Mission went out, the company came back with some requested changes. “One was substantive,” she said, and so went beyond what was included in the original RFP. “[We] may have to go to the next bidder.”

Since the fiber optic cables that have made the entire project possible are included in the National Grid sea2shore transmission cable currently being reburied off Fred Benson Town Beach, there will be an interruption in service when that cable splice occurs. (During this time, the Block Island Power Company will also need to revert to its diesel generators to provide the island with electricity.) This interruption will affect the “Anchor Institutions” that have already been supplied with broadband. These include Town Hall, the Block Island School, the Medical Center, Island Free Library, the Police/Fire Safety Complex, and BIPCo.

Spero said that a microwave tower is being installed to cover the disruption in service, and that currently, “trenching” was being performed behind the police station, where the new communications building is located. “That project is on target,” she said, adding that she was “not sure about National Grid.”