WELLFLEET — The global pandemic has rained down calamities at every street corner, but residents of three rural roads in Wellfleet may see a nugget of gold from it. The state’s $627 million economic recovery bill, which was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Jan. 14, includes $200,000 to be used to upgrade utility poles there to support high-speed internet connections.
On page eight of the 101-page bill, Pamet Point Road, Bound Brook Island Road, and an as yet undefined portion of Old County Road in Wellfleet were specifically named in “An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth.” The $200,000 would go to three utility companies so they can make their poles ready for high-speed internet, commonly called “broadband.” The three companies, which own or rent the poles, are Eversource, Comcast, and the nonprofit Open Cape, according to Frank Schultz, state Sen. Julian Cyr’s communications director.
Heather Draz, one of the only year-round residents of Pamet Point Road, who has worked for 10 years to make this happen, said she is excited. But she won’t believe it until she sees it. For one thing, the legislation is a bond bill, and the money must be authorized by the state’s secretary of administration and finance. Unlike the policy portions of a bill, which become law once Baker signs it, funding for projects outside the state budget is not guaranteed even with the governor’s signature, explained Patrick Johnson, Cyr’s chief of staff.
But, Johnson added, Cyr thinks it will happen “with advocacy.”
This is good news for Draz and the other two dozen or so residents of Bound Brook Island and Pamet Point roads.
But what about the other streets in the rural parts of the Cape, particularly in Truro and Wellfleet, that also lack high-speed internet and are ignored by this bill? (The number of houses that will be connected on Old County Road is subject to findings from a Cape Cod Commission study on high-speed internet availability, said Johnson.)
A 2010 report by the Truro Cable Advisory Committee identified 65 to 198 home owners without broadband in Truro.
Schultz said naming these three specific streets in the bill was easier to sell on the Senate floor than amorphous areas would have been. They are clearly defined and also close to the “middle mile” access that has already been provided by the Open Cape network along Route 6.
But Draz said the real reason that her street and its close neighbors are in the bill is because “I was loud. I’ve made a lot of noise for 10 years.”
It also has nothing to do with a new home owner in the neighborhood, Robert Sachs, the former president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (now the Internet & Television Association) in Washington, D.C., who, with his wife, Caroline Taggart, purchased 350 Pamet Point Road for $1.59 million on Jan. 14.
“I wish I could take credit,” Sachs said this week, “but I give all credit to Heather.”
Draz attended Wellfleet Cable Advisory Committee meetings for years and worked with various Wellfleet town administrators, who are charged with negotiating the 10-year contracts with Comcast. This, she said, turned out to be fruitless.
“I had to go over the town’s head, to my state senator,” she said, “and that worked.”
Cyr, who was raised in Truro and graduated from Nauset Regional High School, “listened and made a point of bringing it to the floor,” Draz said. “I think Julian Cyr’s office should be the one taking the credit.”
When asked why that one neighborhood was getting connected when so many others aren’t, Schultz said that Pamet Point and Bound Brook Island roads represented the “low-hanging fruit.”
There is another major chunk of Wellfleet that, for totally different reasons, has no broadband access, said Mia Baumgarten, Wellfleet’s media operations manager. That is parts of Lieutenant Island, the residents of which, Baumgarten said, recently banded together to persuade holdouts among the 110 property owners to agree to easements granting Comcast permission to put in the necessary utility poles.
Mark Washburn of Sudbury, who helped organize this effort on Lieutenant Island with Sumner Stone of Boston, said only 54 of the 110 home owners on the island currently have broadband. The others, like him, have lived without because of “misunderstandings” (he declined to elaborate) among other property owners who didn’t want to sign easement agreements. There are doctors, nurses, and other professionals who desperately need internet service, he said. And now, he added, it appears they’ll soon get it.
Draz hopes she will, too. And she hopes the use of state funds to bolster internet access during a time when students and professionals are stuck working from home will set a precedent. For now, however, Longnook Road in Truro, Black Pond Road in Wellfleet, and others remain streets that the internet age forgot.