Consultants hired by the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation said it could cost $70 million to build a community fiber-optic network in Falmouth, and there is enough demand to pay for it.
CCG Consultants provided the EDIC with a draft of its community fiber-optic network feasibility study in September. EDIC Director Michael DiGiano said the study demonstrates enough demand to support a community fiber-optic network in Falmouth at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, October 13.
“There are a lot of existing gaps in the service provided by current internet service providers and, more importantly, there is going to definitely be a gap in the future in terms of the infrastructure capability here in Falmouth to meet the demands for broadband,” Mr. DiGiano said. “That gap has been accelerated by the use of businesses, people working from home, and kids at home due to COVID. Those trends have really pointed towards a need for a much more robust system here in Falmouth.”
He said the CCG report includes an engineering plan for a fiber-optic network that not only closes the existing gaps but also anticipates future broadband needs in the community.
Corporation member Christopher R. Simmler asked about the timeline for implementing a community fiber-optic network.
“We all want to do it right, we all want to do it correctly and with tremendous support, but there is also a tremendous need right now, with everybody shifting to working at home,” Mr. Simmler said. “It is not something that can linger two to three years, and then it takes a year or two to install it.”
With an organized effort, Mr. DiGiano said, there will be a Falmouth-specific strategy for a new internet service provider in six months. It would take years before residents are connected to the network.
“I would say you are at least two to three years out from operations and having an operational network, and that is if things go well in terms of getting funding aligned quickly,” said Art Gaylord of the Falmouth Community Network Committee. “Having a part-time or full-time consultant or staff person could really accelerate that, but it is not absolutely necessary.”
Committee member David Isenberg outlined one potential funding option, which would be a federal relief package that includes funding for infrastructure projects.
“It may take a few months, but by next summer, if everything happens correctly, we could be building this thing,” Mr. Isenberg said. “Then, of course, it is 18 months before we could turn it on in any kind of public way. The optimistic scenario is something like two years.”
Committee member Courtney Bird said the timeline should be considered a work in progress. It will have to be revised and expanded as EDIC members start meeting with stakeholders and seek funding.
“This is going to take some time, but we need to keep the pressure up,” Mr. Bird said. “Purely from a selfish point of view, I’m 80 years old, and I want to see this thing happen before the Grim Reaper comes to visit me. So, let’s get this thing going. Do I think we need a consultant or a person to spearhead this effort? I do. That is one of the recommendations of the feasibility study, that we have such an advocacy group and an individual to drive the process.”
Committee member Marilois Snowman described this individual as a “connection evangelist.” Serving as a point person, he or she would meet with public officials, business owners, influencers, internet service providers, neighborhood associations and potential funding sources. This person would be supported by a steering committee, such as the Falmouth community network committee, and the EDIC.
“I finished reading the 200-page report yesterday,” Ms. Snowman said. “I spent this weekend reading it and noting it, and I was very encouraged with the potential for this. It doesn’t have to take two years, but it takes a full-time effort if not.”
Members of the EDIC asked Samuel H. Patterson, who also serves on the Falmouth Select Board, if the board would support a community fiber-optic network. Mr. Patterson said the select board has had a community fiber-optic network in its five-year strategic plan for the past two years.
“The groundwork for this is there,” he said. “They recognize the importance of it; now it is just a matter of convincing the town manager and select board members that this is a feasible thing and will be a significant resource and infrastructure to support the future economic vitality of the town.”
Corporation member Michael B. Galasso said the EDIC, rather than the select board, should take the lead on this project.
“If Courtney wants to get this done before he leaves us, town government and government tends to move a lot slower than independent nonprofits like we are,” Mr. Galasso said. “I think, obviously, we want to partner with the town and want them to be a vital part of what we’re doing, but I think the EDIC is the right organization to move this forward.”
Mr. Patterson agreed.
“If the EDIC wants to take on the challenge of doing this, it will get done faster,” he said.
Though conversations focused on a community fiber-optic network, including a public-private partnership, Mr. Isenberg said it does not have to be. With the right incentives in place, a private company could be encouraged to build out its own private network, he said.
“If a commercial ISP who has a track record of working with other towns is willing to take the ball and go forward, it would be incumbent on the EDIC, the network committee and the town, for that matter, to provide what is necessary, step out of the way and say, ‘Yeah, do it,’ because the prize is getting the network done, regardless of ownership,” he said.