EASTHAM — The OpenCape Corporation’s high-speed internet service has been tantalizingly close and yet out of reach for most Outer Cape residents since 2013, when the nonprofit technology company used $40 million in grants to create a fiber-optic cable “backbone” from the Cape Cod Canal to Provincetown.
Though more than 100 buildings, including schools, public libraries, town halls, and public safety facilities, have connected to the nonprofit service, OpenCape’s own website acknowledges that sky-high connection fees for individual homes put broadband out of reach for almost all regular consumers.
“They’re not designed to roll out and operate with residential customers,” said Rich Bienvenue, Eastham’s finance director and assistant town administrator, at the March 1 select board meeting. “They haven’t even targeted them.”
Bienvenue suggested that the town develop a wireless mesh network that would provide access points for residential customers to connect to OpenCape’s internet service. “To me, that’s the way to proceed,” he said. “There are communities in Massachusetts that have done this.”
Buildings that are connected to OpenCape’s backbone can serve as anchors, Bienvenue said. “Instead of running additional fiber to every home that might be near those locations, we can distribute wireless access points,” he explained. “If you’re in range of an access point, you can then connect.”
A wireless mesh network uses multiple access points in a radius, so, if one point goes down, users can connect to a different point to get back to the anchor.
“Probably the site to start with is our DPW and build out from there, because there’s residential neighborhoods in that area of some density,” said Bienvenue.
Select board chair Jamie Demetri likened the program to the town’s water enterprise, noting how costs were offset as more people connected. “I think the hookup demand would be pretty good,” said Demetri.
“Some neighborhoods you make money on, some neighborhoods you lose money on,” said Bienvenue. “If you can quickly roll that out to all 6,000 residents, you have a much better chance of self-financing it.”
A $1.8 billion I.T. infrastructure bond bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last August has $1.7 million earmarked for OpenCape to fund initiatives such as backbone extensions in Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro and expanded coverage in Provincetown from Bradford Street Extension to the West End Rotary and back up Commercial Street. But the funds have not yet been released by the state.
Bienvenue suggested that funding from that infrastructure bill could be used to run a redundant strand of fiber-optic cable from the Orleans Rotary down Bridge Road to Herring Brook and Massasoit roads.
“If one of those went down in a hurricane or some sort of storm, you’ve got a backup,” he said.
While no vote was taken on Bienvenue’s proposal at the March 1 meeting, he said it had the board’s support.
“It’s definitely something the board is interested in pursuing,” Bienvenue said. “I think this is something that we can do, and, if we’re successful, then we can easily adapt and roll this out to have a larger participation than just Eastham.”