Block Island community lights BroadbandBI municipal FTTH network

June 5, 2023
The network, which the town paid for by itself, leverages a windfarm for power and a submarine cable for connection to the U.S. mainland.

New Shoreham, RI, located on Block Island and the smallest town in Rhode Island, today held a lighting ceremony for its BroadbandBI municipal fiber to the home (FTTH) network. The network, which the town paid for by itself, leverages a windfarm for power and a submarine cable for connection to the U.S. mainland.

Block Island is located 10 miles from the coast of mainland Rhode Island and is a popular tourist destination. However, the small number of inhabitants (roughly 1000) and the fact that the island and New Shoreham can be reached only by boat or aircraft dampened the local service providers’ enthusiasm for bringing advanced broadband services to the community.

Local leaders decided to take matters into their own hands. When Deepwater Wind contracted with the town to provide power, the town government ensured that the cable from the windfarm to the island contained fiber. When the cable reached Block Island in 2017, the town leaders contracted with Sertex Broadband Solutions to build a municipal fiber network that would connect community anchor institutions. That network was completed in 2019. But when the pandemic hit and the need for high-speed broadband became both apparent and acute in 2020, the town decided to expand the network to residents and businesses, thus creating BroadbandBI, which citizens agreed to finance with up to $8 million in tax-supported bonds.

FTTH network construction began in February 2021 and completed this past February, again through Sertex. The FTTH infrastructure comprises 53 miles of fiber-optic cable plant and another 62 miles of underground drops, all to connect approximately 1800 premises.

Crocker Communications will use the FTTH infrastructure to supply gigabit broadband as well as VoIP phone services; however, the network will support 10-Gbps services as requirements grow. Equipment installations and service activations began this past April 2023 for the first fiber service areas. Seven of the eleven service areas are now activated, with the rest expected to come online by this fall. The subscription take rate so far is 65%.

Footing the FTTH bill

New Shoreham plans to recover the network costs in multiple ways. The town will collect an annual tax from property owners beginning in 2025. Meanwhile, monthly fees are incorporated into the broadband subscriptions that aim to cover installation, equipment, transport, administration, operations, and maintenance costs. However, even with these fees, the monthly bills are less than what residents and businesses were paying before, town officials assert. The town created multilevel service tiers and associated pricing to fit the requirements and budgets of potential subscribers.

“We would love to access federal funding in support of this project,” said Amy Lewis Land, finance director of New Shoreham. “But we had to move forward without a promise of assistance, so we set rates for a recapture that would cover our costs and create a viable, sustainable framework to operate the utility long-term.”

“The town should take a great deal of pride in what it has accomplished with this project – from achieving near-unanimous community support to facing down the challenges of the pandemic, including disruptions in workflow and supply chain,” added New Shoreham’s town manager, Maryanne Crawford. “We’re plowing new ground as one of the few towns [in the U.S.] that has done such a comprehensive project pretty much entirely on its own. It’s extraordinary. We did this. And we did it by ourselves.”

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About the Author

Stephen Hardy | Editorial Director and Associate Publisher, Lightwave

Stephen Hardy is editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave and Broadband Technology Report, part of the Lighting & Technology Group at Endeavor Business Media. Stephen is responsible for establishing and executing editorial strategy across the both brands’ websites, email newsletters, events, and other information products. He has covered the fiber-optics space for more than 20 years, and communications and technology for more than 35 years. During his tenure, Lightwave has received awards from Folio: and the American Society of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) for editorial excellence. Prior to joining Lightwave in 1997, Stephen worked for Telecommunications magazine and the Journal of Electronic Defense.

Stephen has moderated panels at numerous events, including the Optica Executive Forum, ECOC, and SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. He also is program director for the Lightwave Innovation Reviews and the Diamond Technology Reviews.

He has written numerous articles in all aspects of optical communications and fiber-optic networks, including fiber to the home (FTTH), PON, optical components, DWDM, fiber cables, packet optical transport, optical transceivers, lasers, fiber optic testing, and more.

You can connect with Stephen on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.

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