December Infrastructure: municipal WiFi

At its December meeting, the Infrastructure Committee discussed possible ways to help communities connect with WiFi.

A survey drafted by a sub-committee was circulated through the Tech Council’s newsletter and school contacts. As responses come in, the overwhelming number are from Wellfleet and Provincetown, where WiFi is a recognized issue. Committee members discussed posting available WiFi hotspots, beginning with areas with self-reported greatest need, including current municipal hotspots.

The state of Massachusetts issued an RFP recently to provide enhanced WiFi service from municipal buildings. The Eastham Public Library, for instance, has WiFi mounted outside the library so consumers can use it from the parking lot. The state is soliciting bids to provide similar services statewide, with a particular focus on the Outer Cape. Open Cape reported that they will respond to that RFP.

Members with a connection to the Blue Economoy Foundation reported that the Expedition Blue project is in motion, to create a number of information and tourism sites at scenic points across the Cape. There are currently nine locations planned. Instead of going to a museum, the Blue Economy Foundation encourages residents and visitors to visit historic trails and sites. Informational kiosks, all sited on public land, will have QR codes with information on the history and importance of the location, providing a learning opportunity for visitors and residents. It was suggested that these kiosks might also provide broadband, which is not financially feasible at this time.

The Expedition Blue Trail is funded by a grant to the Seaport Council, with a contract managed by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. This contract covers the cost of building the structures and their Expedition Blue Trail capabilities. On their completion, the structures will be granted to and owned by the towns.

It was reported that Falmouth is moving forward as more people on Main Street are added to the broadband initiative.

The Falmouth Community Network, which is an idea being driven by local citizens, just made public a feasibility study funded through the EDIC. A Falmouth-wide, all fiber network is estimated at a little more than $54 million. According to the study, sixty-one percent of the served community has expressed interest in signing with an alternative to Comcast. The study suggests there is a business case for somebody to build a community network in an area currently served by Comcast and Verizon. The town, however, is unable to take on a new project and does not want to drive this initiative,

It was suggested that the committee invite representatives from the Falmouth Community Network to an upcoming Infrastructure Committee meeting. The committee is also interested in hearing from the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative.

The towns of Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown, who negotiate jointly with Comcast, completed their contract negotiations a couple months ago. Working together, the towns were able to get Comcast to increase their service on the Outer Cape. In the past, Comcast would not provide service in areas with less than 25 homes in a linear mile. Working together, the towns were able to get Comcast to agree to fifteen homes per mile.

Demand has started to drive different activities during the pandemic. Churches are connecting or have expressed interest in connecting so that they may live stream their services. Businesses are struggling going into winter, looking to see how they can use their internet connection to build business during a very challenging time.

Committee members expressed interest in creating case studies on how technology can be applied to specific businesses and activities, to keep communities connected and working.

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