Courtney Bird and Peter Cook interview Christopher Mitchell, the Director of the Community Broadband Network Initiative at Institute of Local Self Reliance about efforts such as ours. Christopher’s work focuses on telecommunications–helping communities ensure the networks upon which they depend, are accountable to the community. He is a nationally recognized speaker and author and has helped main communities such as ours. The video will be shown on FCTV and is also available here.
We have received nine bids to our Request for Proposals for a company to do a feasibility study for the community network. This is a very good response and shows that there is significant interest in the project. We reviewed the bids and will be interviewing a set of finalists in the next few weeks. We expect to select a company in early October.
The small group that is making a case for creating a municipal high-speed fiber optic network argues that it will be faster, cheaper and more reliable than currently available options for internet access. They are no doubt right on all counts, although a feasibility study, which will soon get underway, will put these claims to the test.
The tempestuous weather of last week, however, already put one element to the test.
A municipal system would be built on the OpenCape network, which currently services the town, hospital and scientific institutions in Woods Hole. A town-wide system would connect OpenCape with homes and businesses. That is the expensive part.
But the reliability of OpenCape was in evidence when the storms, microbursts and tornadoes hit the Cape. Very few OpenCape customers lost internet access during that time; unofficial count we received was 13, and even then, that was due to loss of electricity.
The OpenCape network withstood the storms, even though—again an unofficial report—some 20 utility poles on which OpenCape’s cables were strung, were toppled. These numbers might not be quite right, but it can be said with certainty that the OpenCape network held firm.
This is something to consider as we head into hurricane season. The tornadoes Down Cape, as dramatic as they were, are but a preview of the damage that could be wrought by even a Category One storm. The tornadoes last week created winds from 90 to 110 miles per hour for a short time. During Hurricane Bob, not a particularly severe hurricane, gusts were over 100 miles per hour throughout the entire afternoon of August 16, 1991.
Internet access is not a luxury or a source of entertainment, although it is that for some. Today it is a necessary component of commerce and communication. Reliability is paramount.
Recent weather and the durability of OpenCape tell us that speed and expense aside, the reliability of a municipal broadband system connected to OpenCape is reason enough to hope that the small group that proposed it will gain widespread support.
The EDIC has issued a Request for Proposal to companies who can perform the feasibility study for the Falmouth Community Network. This is a great next step. It is expected that a contract will be awarded by early September and that the study will be concluded in mid-March. The RFP is posted in the EDIC website. The national organization, Community Networks, has highlighted our work.
The leading national organization that discusses independent community networking projects, Muninetworks.org, has just published an article entitled Support Growing for Muni Initiative in Falmouth.
An editorial in the June 14 Falmouth Enterprise
The vote by the EDIC to commit $50,000 to a feasibility study of bringing municipal broadband to Falmouth was a bold move. It was, without a doubt, a good move; the idea of closing the gap between the OpenCape fiber optic network and residences and businesses has been out there for some time. About five years ago a friend, who was at the time helping students from China and other far-off countries apply to US colleges, argued for it; her internet service was too slow to allow for consistent face-to-face video conferencing. Others weighed in as well, but the idea went quiet for a while, surfacing here and there since then.
But now Courtney Bird and others are rallying support. And the EDIC is on board.
Committing the funds is bold because there are no guarantees. First, it might be that a study will show that there is no financially viable way of extending the OpenCape network. Good to know, if so.
It is more likely, though, that a study will turn up valuable information about needs, interests, economic benefits and, of course, costs. It might be found that a municipal network is not feasible or desired but that there is an alternate way to accomplish the same thing.
It might also be that with the town looking seriously at a high-speed network, Comcast will step up and make improvements to its Cape service.
Mr. Bird and his colleagues—there is a lot of expertise in that group—are confident that a municipal system of some sort is feasible. If that turns out to be the case, it will be interesting to see how things play out.
A municipal fiber network will require up-front expense. It will be easier to go to Town Meeting for funding with arguments already laid out in a feasibility study. But it will still be a bold move.