BroadbandBI officially launches on Block Island

U.S. SENS. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, left, and Jack Reed, both Rhode Island Democrats, address the crowd during the official launch of BroadbandBI on Block Island on June 5. / COURTESY TOWN OF NEW SHOREHAM

PROVIDENCE – State and congressional leaders on Monday celebrated the official launch of BroadbandBl, Rhode Island’s first 100% publicly owned, taxpayer-financed broadband network that will serve Block Island. 

“Like the wind farm that powers the island, BroadbandBI is a momentous achievement for the community,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a statement. “The network would not have been possible without the wind farm and its undersea cable that brought power and supplied eight strands of fiber cable that promised a gigabit-speed future.” 

The publicly funded, wind-powered local broadband network has been years in the making. 

New Shoreham secured an agreement to include a fiber optic connection as part of what was then known as the Deepwater Wind LLC wind farm project. In July 2020, voters authorized up to $8 million in tax-supported bonds at a town meeting to fund the broadband network. 

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New Shoreham plans to recover costs for the network by collecting an annual tax from property owners beginning in 2025. Additional monthly fees are incorporated into broadband subscriptions to cover installation, equipment, transport, administration, operations and maintenance costs. 

However, town officials are still pursuing federal funding, said New Shoreham Finance Director Amy Lewis Land, and anticipate that the monthly tax increase should be lower than costs associated with previously existing broadband options. 

“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,” Lewis Land said in a statement. 

Connecticut-based Sertex Broadband Solutions, which previously created the town network, built BroadBandRI and will provide operational and maintenance support over the next 10 years.  

The broadband project was completed in February, with the first customers on Block Island receiving service in April.  

“As a community, we recognized that our lack of modern infrastructure was adversely affecting our day-to-day lives,” Kim Gaffett, lifelong Block Island resident and former first warden who served New Shoreham during wind farm planning and construction, said in a statement. “This project took years from conception to planning to financing and construction, and very much illustrates our community’s history of independence and tenacity.” 

“The Town should take a great deal of pride in what it has accomplished with this project – from recognizing the importance of fiber to achieving near-unanimous community support to facing down the challenges of the pandemic, including disruptions in workflow and supply chain,” New Shoreham Town Manager Maryanne Crawford said in a statement. “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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