Internet outages plagued Falmouth last summer.
“[Main Street businesses] had a problem running credit cards during the summer, when Comcast did not have enough power to do that,” resident Michael B. Galasso said.
Verizon DSL customers experienced a five-day outage.
“Five days without internet, when we do everything on the internet, is a pretty big deal for some of us,” said David Isenberg at a public meeting to explore better internet through a Falmouth community network at the main branch of the Falmouth Public Library on Tuesday, June 4. Mr. Isenberg was one of the five meeting organizers.
More than 80 Falmouth residents attended the meeting to learn the next steps for developing a community-based fiber-optic network. Several asked what they could do to promote this development.
“To see this turnout is great, and it’s a great first step,” organizer Courtney F. Bird of Sippewissett Road said. “That is what we need, and we now need you all to go out and sell it your friends, because it is going to be a slog for a little bit. Yes, there will be a feasibility study, but there also needs to be lobbying of our selectmen, there needs to be convincing of all of those people in Town Meeting that raise money, that set the taxes, that vote the priorities. They need to hear from people like you that this is important.”
Resident Bob Egan, a network architect and technologist, said a community-based fiber optic network is important for the future of the Falmouth community.
“It helps with our business, it helps with our education and our youth, both retaining and attracting that younger population as well,” Mr. Egan said.
Josef M. Kellndorfer said the network would support local business, allowing them to gain economic traction.
“A reliable internet, a reliable connection is very important for those modern workforces, and is what we need,” Mr. Kellndorfer said.
Selectman Samuel H. Patterson said a strong local internet network would enable the growth of home businesses and cottage industries.
“The best way for this town to grow is through those home businesses, knowledgeable workers in their homes doing consulting around the world, but they have to have that internet service for that to happen,” Mr. Patterson said.
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He said that while he supports a community-based fiber-optic network, it would take a community upwelling to make it happen.
The recurring message Tuesday night was that a community-based network does not happen without community support.
“The way a community gets a network is primarily through community support,” Mr. Isenberg said. “We can do it together, but it will not be done for us. What has to come first, what has to be the basis for a community network is the community.”
He said there are two network options the town could realistically consider. Falmouth could utilize a fixed wireless system, where fiber-optic cables connect to a central node, which, in turn, provides service to a neighborhood, or could offer a fiber connection to every home in the town.
“There are pros and cons for both,” Mr. Isenberg said. “Of course, the end game is fiber to every home.”
It would be a costly endeavor. Mr. Isenberg provided a rough cost estimate of $30 to $60 million.
“Financing is not such a big problem,” he said. “If we support it, there will be financing. We could do municipal bonds, there are various federal grants and programs and state grants and programs.”
Guest speaker David Talbot of CTC Technology and Energy said a feasibility study would access what Falmouth needs, identify which assets are available and determine gaps in the existing network, as well as develop a basic network design with a cost estimate and strategy to implement.
The feasibility study would cost an estimated $50,000.
Because of OpenCape, Falmouth is not starting from scratch.
“There is a lot of OpenCape infrastructure in Falmouth that is already here for us to use,” Mr. Isenberg said.
OpenCape could hypothetically manage the community-based fiber-optic network, he said. Other options include the Town of Falmouth, a utility district, the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation or a public/private partnership. A feasibility study would determine the viability of those options.
It would also help determine how much the internet service would cost customers on a month-to-month basis.
“If the town were to build such a network, they figure out how to do it and come up with a good business plan, the key is to attract customers,” Mr. Bird said. “The key is to have somebody decide they would be better off by going with a local network because of the price, service or a combination of things. Any network that gets built, if it is going to succeed, has to be competitive.”
Jay Zavala of Wheelhouse Circle, Hatchville, asked how the service would be handled once the fiber-optic cable is installed.
“Running the cable is one thing, running the operation is another,” Mr. Zavala said. Mr. Zavala is the former head of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Isenberg agreed, noting strong customer service helps ensure the success of the community fiber-optic networks.
“Customer service is key, especially in a local network,” he said. “Having the service be locally based is one of the reasons that customers like it and communities support it. You don’t get somebody who is punching a clock in some call center, probably in another country. You get someone who is local and in some cases, leaves the telephone and comes over to your house to help you diagnose the problem.”
Mr. Bird described Tuesday’s meeting as the first step. He plans to present the proposal to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen and EDIC.
“This is the beginning, and the next step is the feasibility study,” he said.