Internet service 'most important' issue on the islandTown Council receives technology update
Town Councilor Norris Pike put it bluntly.
The internet service on Block Island, he said, is “the most important issue this community has.”
This is what Town Councilors and Town Information Technology (IT) Director Michele Spero said at a council work session on Nov. 6. How to improve the internet service, however, remains the challenge.
Spero, who is a consultant hired by the Town Council to manage the town’s technology infrastructure, suggested several options to the council. First, if Deepwater’s wind farm is built, there will be fiberoptic cables included in Deepwater’s electric cable. She said she has been working with Deepwater Wind to make sure the town has access to these fiberoptic cables.
“Fiber really is the best solution for broadband [internet] access,” said Spero.
Town Councilor Chris Warfel questioned whether or not fiberoptics would be the best solution for the town, as it could be expensive to bring the fiberoptic connection from the cable to island residents and businesses.
Warfel instead suggested improving the town’s microwave service (internet transmitted from a tower via electromagnetic waves). Spero agreed with Warfel’s suggestion, and said “we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket.”
Spero added that she is working with state agencies, such as the Rhode Island Office of Digital Excellence to “explore resources and strategies for improving broadband coverage and capacity on Block Island.” She is also talking with a Rhode Island based non-profit group called OSHEAN to help expand internet coverage at the Block Island school.
She recommended also working with other towns in Rhode Island, especially towns on Aquidneck Island (Newport, Portsmouth and Middletown), which are currently facing similar, though less severe, challenges with their internet service, according to Spero.
There may be a possibility to partner with other Rhode Island towns to share an internet tower that would increase the island’s internet service.
“There are lots of possible solutions,” said Spero. “If anyone’s going to solve this problem, it’s not going to be Verizon.”
Verizon is the internet supplier for Block Island, and currently offers a limited DSL connection, which has posed a challenge to the island businesses, school and private residents.
Spero said the next step is to have all town entities collaborate on the internet issue. There are currently several committees on-island working on this issue.
At the Nov. 6 work session, Spero also updated the council on a lengthy list of technology projects in the town. She reported that there has been an upgrade to the town’s anti-virus software. Also, the Police Department has new software that should “enhance their reporting capabilities,” said Spero.
She is also working to update the town’s GIS (mapping) software, which will help several departments in the town prepare material, such as abutter’s lists for Planning Board meetings.
The Harbors Department is seeing an overhaul of its technology infrastructure, including a program that will allow the department to issue paperless permits and licences. The Department is also being networked so there can be communications between the Harbormaster Shack, the Patrol Boat and the Police Department.
Spero said the town’s website (www.new-shoreham.com) is in the process of being redesigned.
Spero reported that the town’s plotter, which prints maps, broke and has been undergoing repairs for about the past three weeks. The town’s large-format copier also needed repair, and Spero recommended that the town purchase a new copier/printer device instead of repairing this device.
The Town Council also spent much time talking about what can be done to improve the technology inside the Town Hall meeting room. Councilors also discussed issues with their email system.
Spero also reminded the council that her one-year contract, which was approved by the council last year, with the town is about to expire. Town Manager Nancy Dodge said that she will recommend that the council renew Spero’s contract for another year.
Also, Dodge reported three brief updates to the council on public works projects: the New Harbor Boat ramp, the Ball O’Brien park project, and mitigation plans for the erosion at West Beach.