Falmouth group seeks to launch locally run, fiber-optic network

Falmouth group seeks to launch locally run, fiber-optic network

By Jessica Hill / jhill@capecodonline.com

Posted Feb 12, 2020 at 7:08 PM Updated Feb 13, 2020 at 6:29 AM

FALMOUTH — In a survey of 378 Falmouth residents, 70% said they want better internet service, and 92% said they want more options for their service.

The feasibility survey, conducted by Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting, revealed that many residents are unhappy with their current internet service. The survey represents the first phase in a long-term effort to bring a community-led internet service to town.

A new group, Falmouth Community Network, has begun looking into how the town could start its own internet service for residents.

Falmouth resident Courtney Bird had heard about communities around the country that found success with their own network service, and he started the initiative about a year ago.

In June, the network organized a community meeting to talk about issues with the town’s internet infrastructure, and almost 100 people attended. Surprised by the turnout, Bird began to realize many residents are unhappy with their current internet service.

“At that point, it was very clear that the next step was we had to get beyond the talking stage,” Bird said. “We had to get some hard information. That meant doing a feasibility study.”

Bird and other members of the network approached the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corp. to see if it would fund a feasibility study that would gauge residents’ interests in an alternative, community-based, high-speed fiber-optic network.

“There seemed to be a lot of community interest and issues with the internet in general,” said Michael DiGiano, executive director of the EDIC.

Current commercial carriers like Comcast and Verizon are not investing in higher-end infrastructure like fiber-optic cable, DiGiano said.

“Having reliable internet service is key to business growth and economic growth,” DiGiano said. “If we don’t have high speed, reliable high speed, there’s going to be a lot of things that businesses and people are going to be hampered in doing.”

DiGiano presented the results of the survey to the EDIC Tuesday morning.

Of the respondents, 88% have traditional cable TV, which is more than the national average of 70%. Most of the respondents use Comcast.

Falmouth residents reported spending an average of $183 a month on cable services. About 50% of respondents reported experiencing an outage in the last year, some of which lasted for multiple days.

CCG Consulting predicts that more Falmouth homes will be dropping traditional cable TV in the future, although only 4.5% of respondents in Falmouth claimed to be cord cutters, according to the survey.

The survey determined that many people want to see an alternative internet provider, DiGiano said.

The next phase of the project is to conduct a high-level engineering analysis that would determine what infrastructure would be needed to deliver the network to households. That includes lines, connections and transmission points, DiGiano said.

The third phase would involve a financial analysis to determine how financially feasible the plan is. DiGiano estimates the third phase will be complete in the summer.

If created, Falmouth would be the first town on the Cape to have its own internet service. Yarmouth is working on a similar plan, but Falmouth is the first to get the idea off the ground with a feasibility study, Bird said.

OpenCape, a Barnstable-based nonprofit organization, has hooked up many businesses across the Cape to a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network, including about 45 businesses on Main Street in Falmouth. But it currently is focused on businesses, not households.

A community-run network could help households not just with faster internet, Bird said, but could also increase accessibility across the town.

“Teachers increasingly assign homework based on internet use,” he said. “If the internet isn’t ubiquitous, if people can’t afford it, then those children are disadvantaged.”

With health care becoming more online-focused as well, better internet service can help elderly people on the Cape who want to live more independently, Bird said.

Questions still need to be answered, such as who would run the network, whether it be operated like a public utility or a nonprofit organization, or if OpenCape would handle it, Bird said.

“We see this as an investment in Falmouth’s future,” Bird said. “It’s as important to invest in this as it was back in the turn of the last century when towns invested in electricity.”

“Once you started to get that infrastructure spread out, it became an engine for innovation,” he added.

Jane Carter, a North Falmouth resident and Comcast subscriber, said she does not have any issues with her current service, although she said it is getting more expensive. When the power goes out, a generator comes on so she does not experience any outages.

Still, she said, she would like to see more options.

“We don’t really have a real problem with it at all, but a little competition would be good,” Carter said.

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