2015-01-29 / Opinion

High Speed Technology Eludes Us

EDITORIAL

When local experts were invited to Middletown earlier this month to discuss bringing faster Internet service to Aquidneck Island, the sales pitches seemed to move more quickly than fiber optic lines.

The Middletown Economic Advisory Committee and representatives from various local boards and commissions – town councils, school committees and town administrators – had asked several speakers simply to educate them in an introductory session about a long-range plan to bring faster Wi-Fi to residents and businesses.

“I don’t know much about the issue of broadband and I’m here to learn,” said Committee Chair Robert Silva at the start of the meeting.

But after a 20-minute introduction by the Middletown IT director, the meeting turned not so subtly into networking of a much more lucrative kind – the kind that may lead to tens of millions of dollars in future IT delivery contracts.

Stakeholders from across the spectrum were on hand to speak and to learn, but high-speed, high-powered communications giants like Cox were chomping at the bit.

It didn’t take many who claimed to be too slow in this field to catch on .

The second speaker, invited by the committee to present information, said that Rhode Island was behind the rest of the nation and really needed to come up to speed, especially island communities. He showed charts and statistics for 20 minutes.

But then he continued to say that cable companies charge too much, aiming for a 90 percent profit on average. He then informed the committee that, oh, by the way, his international company just happens to make software that makes it possible to determine where to build fiber networks most profitably and efficiently.

Then the Cox group of four, led by Jennifer Bramley, vice president of government and public affairs, stepped forward. Bramley said her company is focused on island businesses.

Cox’s business clients include Salve Regina University, Newport Hospital and many others, connected by more than 200 miles of fiber that Cox put in. As one official said off the record, “Cox has us by the short wires.”

Bramley then started pitching as well, offering “the same statewide rates” that Providence has, adding that Cox “will have gigabyte services to all of our markets” by the end of 2016.

The previous presenter then shouted that Cox offered $400 per month for megabyte, not gigabyte, service. The battle was on.

Another man from Newport then put forth his fiber network plans. The speaker, trying to raise about $12 million now and $31 million overall, is tied to a Virginia company working to install a new system to improve our Internet speed. It is a five-year plan, dividing the island into neighborhoods.

Three fast pitches, one quizzical batter.

“I don’t expect solutions to emanate from this meeting, but I do expect dialogue,” said Silva. “We are not seeking solutions tonight.”

Perhaps he had better reiterate that point before another informational meeting.

While we look forward to the day when city governments, businesses, and island residents can rely on speedy Internet service, we hope that the process to achieve this long-held goal will proceed in a deliberate and thoughtful manner, with the best interests of all Aquidneck Islanders at the forefront.

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