By ELIANNA SPITZER Sep 19, 2019
After more than a year of planning, OpenCape is accepting applications for its Falmouth Business Gigabit Project, which will extend fiber-optic internet service to about 100 businesses along Main Street. The online application portal opened at 10 AM Thursday, September 19.
The network extension allows OpenCape to deliver “a substantially more reliable service” to Main Street businesses, said Steve Johnston, OpenCape’s executive director.
OpenCape is a Barnstable-based nonprofit that uses a fiber-optic network to connect municipal buildings, emergency services, schools, businesses, and research institutions on Cape Cod.
OpenCape’s fiber cables run along Route 28 from Hyannis, passing Stop & Shop, and continuing onto Main Street until Barbo’s Furniture, said Mr. Johnston. At that point the cables take a detour down Gifford Street to connect buildings like Morse Pond Elementary and Falmouth Public Library, Mr. Johnston said. OpenCape fiber also extends down Palmer Avenue to Woods Hole.
The Main Street extension will offer connection to Main Street businesses between Barbo’s Furniture and Corner Cycle, Mr. Johnston said. The project to connect this stretch of Main Street began last year after members of the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation and Falmouth Chamber of Commerce received complaints about unreliable and unaffordable internet service. Members from each organization began discussing a Main Street build-out in which Main Street businesses would not bear the total cost of the project.
Two outside funding sources made the project possible. OpenCape worked with MassDevelopment to take advantage of a newly launched loan program called TechDollars. The nonprofit received a $200,000 loan from the program. Falmouth EDIC worked with Massachusetts state house representatives to secure a grant from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development’s Mass Office of Business Development, as well.
Businesses seeking to take advantage of the new service extension can submit an application on OpenCape’s website, which will put them into a connection queue. The first 62 businesses will have their connection fees covered by a connection fund, Mr. Johnston said. The fee to connect is undetermined, but Mr. Johnston believes the cost will range from $600-$800 per business.
Businesses that miss out on more than 60 free connections will have a few options if they still want to connect, Mr. Johnston said. They can pay the connection fee up-front, finance that fee over 12 months, or wait until the Community Connection Fund is replenished through monthly subscriber contributions.
In order to connect, a Main Street business will have to commit to a two-year agreement in which the cost of service will not change, Mr. Johnston said. He anticipates a cost of $117 per month. That cost breaks down into $80 for the service itself, $27 to service the Mass Development loan, and $10 to contribute to a revolving fund that will help future businesses connect for free.
The fiber-optic cable will run along existing telephone poles located behind Main Street buildings. Shared gigabit service around and beyond Main Street is possible, Mr. Johnston said, and OpenCape will be handling those requests on a case-by-case basis.
Michael Kasparian, director of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, said the organization was “thrilled” that the initiative was coming to fruition. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for businesses along Main Street,” he added.
Mr. Kasparian confirmed that the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce building, next to Shivericks Pond, will be connecting to the shared service.
As OpenCape waits for applications to come in, it is already “forging ahead,” Mr. Johnston said. OpenCape is in the pre-engineering phase and Mr. Johnston anticipates that laying the backbone of the extension, fiber cable between poles, will take two to three weeks. Running cables from the poles to individual businesses will be a longer process, but Mr. Johnston said he believes some connections could be up and running within the next 30 days.
Implementation of the Main Street expansion comes on the heels of a push for residential access to fiber-optic service. In June, the members of the Falmouth EDIC voted to spend up to $50,000 to commission a community-based fiber-optic feasibility study.
One option for building a residential network could take advantage of OpenCape’s existing infrastructure. Mr. Johnston noted that the latest expansion—offering shared gigabit service to Main Street businesses—could look similar to any future residential expansion.
The Main Street expansion will be a “huge opportunity for us to better understand demand [and] usage,” Mr. Johnston added.
“The technology we’re putting into these businesses would be that same technology we’d use to deliver residential service,” Mr. Johnston said, though there are currently no plans to offer residential service.
Although applications went live Thursday, there is no cut-off date for the project. If business owners have questions about the offer, they can contact OpenCape, but all applications must be submitted online.