Survey Shows Community Fiber Optic Network Fits Falmouth
By BRAD COLE
Feb 14, 2020
A survey of 378 Falmouth residents suggests Falmouth is well-suited for an alternative broadband provider, such as one through a community fiber optic network.
That was the message from preliminary results of a feasibility study of a community high speed network that CCG Consultants is conducting. The Economic Development and Industrial Corporation discussed the results on Tuesday, February 11.
“If it were properly marketed, if the survey were reliable and lived up to expectations, CCG felt that a realistic five-year target penetration of customers for an alternative broadband provider would be 61 percent, which they felt was at the high end of the spectrum,” EDIC executive director Michael DiGiano said. “Typically, they see a range of 45 to 50 percent. The highest they’ve ever seen is 65 percent, so in terms of predicted penetration rate for an alternative broadband provider, this is at the top end.”According to CCG’s data, Falmouth is bucking the trend when it comes to cable and internet service. Of the 378 respondents, 88 percent have a traditional cable television service and 79 percent pay for service from Comcast. In addition, 60 percent of respondents own a landline telephone, more than the national average of 40 percent.
“That national average is just under 70 percent,” Mr. DiGiano said. “The trend nationally is cord-cutting. They are basically streaming services rather than going with cable television for their entertainment. [CCG] thinks that number will drop over time.”
The survey states that residents are also paying more for their cable service than the national average. Respondents reported an average bill of $183 per month for a “Triple Play” bundle—TV, phone and internet. The national average is $150 for the same services.
Approximately 51 percent of respondents reported an outage in the past year, with 45 percent of reported outages lasting multiple days. Residents also experienced slowdowns.
“Sixty-three percent noticed slowdowns in the last year, and they found those slowdowns to be very annoying and bothersome, and various other adjectives used to describe that,” Mr. DiGiano said.
In addition, among those surveyed, 27 percent were unhappy with download speeds, 33 percent were not happy with customer service and 36 percent were not satisfied with service reliability. In total, 70 percent of those surveyed supported getting better internet access in Falmouth, and 92 percent stated they would like to see more competition in this area.
“One of the big drivers is pricing,” Mr. DiGiano said. “Eighty-two percent of the respondents said lower pricing from an alternative provider would make them consider changing, and 59 percent would be motivated by better reliability.”
The EDIC voted to proceed with phase two of the community fiber optic network study, which will include an engineering analysis and financial analysis. These analyses should be completed by June, and can be paid for with the existing study budget of $52,000.
Committee member Michael B. Galasso said he supports proceeding with the study, but the EDIC should get reimbursed for the cost of it. In addition, he said, the EDIC should receive a 10 percent developer’s fee of the total cost of the project.
Mr. DiGiano said the EDIC should look into recouping its costs, but noted it is still early in this process.
“I think, as you see here, we’ll be looking at a variety of models on who is going to operate it and how it will be financed, and quite honestly, we don’t even know if it will be financially feasible,” he said. “So I’m taking that to be, if there is the opportunity to do that, the EDIC should proceed on that.”
When Mr. DiGiano said the path to recouping those costs is undefined at this point, Mr. Galasso said he wanted the request on record.
“We didn’t do this just to give $50,000 to do a study,” Mr. Galasso said. “I think we’re looking at really building this thing out.”
Member Christopher R. Simmler said it was good to have that on the record going forward. He supported moving on with phase two of the study.
“We’re going to need this if we are going to sell it to a town or a developer,” he said. “We’re going to need all these facts to show its viable.”
Arthur S. Gaylord, one of the organizers who called for a community-based fiber optic network, asked the EDIC to reconsider the 10 percent fee.
”That 10 percent could easily be the difference between a make or break in the early years,” Mr. Gaylord said. “At this point, as Mike said, we don’t know how this project will be built. It could be that it’s built through a private company with minimal involvement of the town and the EDIC in construction and so forth, it could be something the EDIC is intimately involved with and the 10 percent fee, or greater, could be justified. But to impose, at this point, is premature and unwise.”
Committee member Susan L. Moran said the motion includes the 10 percent developer’s fee as an option.
“The EDIC does take a role, and we’ve already spent a lot of money on administration,” Ms. Moran said. “Without that, this wouldn’t otherwise happen.”
Mr. Galasso said the fee is subject to discussion.
“I didn’t want to bring it up when we get further down, when we get ready to put the thing out for an RFP and say we want 10 percent,” Mr. Galasso said. “I’d rather have it on the table now. We can discuss it. It is flexible, too, depending on the economics. We’re not trying to kill the project in any way. We want it to go forward.”