Economic Development Commission keeps SIFI high-speed Internet idea alive

Economic Development Commission keeps SIFI high-speed Internet idea alive

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — The Economic Development Commission is studying a high-speed internet proposal that was previously abandoned by the Town Council.

The commission interviewed a representative of SIFI Networks by telephone during its monthly meeting on April 12. The company was the lone respondent to a request, issued by Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy in January 2016, for proposals from companies interested in building a municipal fiber-optic system. At the time, Kennedy was looking for a company willing to build a high-speed fiber to the premise system.

The EDC has had SIFI on its agenda for months.

“It has been a topic on our agenda for several months. At the time it was first placed on the agenda members of the commission said they didn’t really know much about the proposal and were concerned there might be questions from the public that they couldn’t answer,” said Faith Bessette-Zito, EDC chairwoman, during an interview Wednesday.

The commission received a rundown on the proposal from Scott Bradshaw, president of SIFI’s American division. The company was founded in London.

The system would run fiber-optic cable capable of carrying high speed signals past every address in the town. Most of the fiber would be underground in micro-trenches but some areas might require placement on utility poles. The company has also patented technology to run fiber through sewer lines.

Commission member Grant Simmons asked a question that came up frequently when the Town Council considered the proposal and during public information meetings: Would the system proposed by SIFI become obsolete before the town’s lease expired. While technology continues to change rapidly, Bradshaw said most advances involve an expansion of Wi-Fi-based applications — all of which benefit from high-speed fiber optic connectivity.

“You need unparalleled connectivity ... the only thing that enables that is fiber,” Bradshaw said.

The town would enter into a long-term lease-to-purchase agreement, making annual lease payments to SIFI for a period of 20 to 30 years. The town would contract with internet service providers, who would have access to the system and would in turn continue providing services to customers. The system is intended to be self-sustaining. The town would contract with the internet service providers and use that revenue to offset the lease payments. SIFI guarantees at least one contracted service provider before the system goes live. Revenues in excess of the lease payments could be used for future system maintenance or other own needs, Kennedy said.

In addition to being a potential economic driver by making high speed internet available at lower prices, Bradshaw said the system would make municipal government operations easier by improving communications, allowing for remote control of streetlights and street signs. Smart home functions would also benefit, he said. Businesses using high-speed internet would see a reduction in monthly cost from $1,000 per month to $150 per month and a tenfold increase in internet speed, Kennedy said.

While the monthly cost to residential customers might be similar to what they currently pay, Bradshaw said the quality and speed of service would eclipse what is currently available in the town.

The Town Council dropped the proposal when it was not able to agree on terms of a feasibility study proposed by SIFI. Some councilors expressed concern that SIFI has yet to establish a history of success in the United States.

Kennedy asked commission members to submit questions to him. Bradshaw will either attend a future meeting in person or by telephone to answer the questions, Kennedy said.

Unlike when the project was first proposed, Kennedy said he no longer planned to lead any future information meetings. If the commission ultimately decides the project should be revived it should contact the Town Council, Kennedy said.


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