To the Editor:
Steve Myrick reported accurately in Island towns lag in connecting to new communications network, on September 12, that Martha’s Vineyard has not been as engaged in the OpenCape project as Cape Cod and therefore may not be gaining greatest advantage from the project. The article resulted in a follow-on article of claims by some Islanders who disagreed with their depiction in the article. Also, two Letters to the Editor were written that contained inaccurate information. Some online public comment was not only inaccurate, but defamatory of me.
Unfortunately, civility has declined in our society, and technology allows any sideline commentator to make outrageous comments online without benefit of fact or logic. It is shameful. Decent citizens should recognize it and condemn it. I feel compelled to provide the citizens of Martha’s Vineyard with factual information about the project and a description of the opportunity before Islanders.
I am a retired Naval Intelligence officer, having served our country on active duty for more than 23 years, with the highest levels of security clearance and trust. For more than seven years, I have worked with a dedicated group of volunteers that has contributed thousands of hours of our time to develop the OpenCape concept, with the sole goal of improving communications infrastructure for the public good. We successfully raised $40 million in public and private funding to build a comprehensive telecommunications infrastructure in Southeast Massachusetts, from an idea with no funding into what will shortly be one of the most advanced networks in the country. The project is on budget and will be completed in early 2013.
OpenCape works closely with community leaders and stakeholders to address their needs and coordinate our actions. For example, we were co-founders of the SmarterCape Partnership to advance economic development that was recently awarded a $500,000 grant for the implementation of an “ePermitting, Licensing and Inspection” system for the benefit of Cape and potentially Island towns.
In light of some of the false comments on The Times website, the citizens of Martha’s Vineyard should know that OpenCape is being implemented to the highest possible standards of construction and financial accountability, with independent oversight. OpenCape must provide significant reporting to the Commonwealth and Internal Revenue Service regarding its nonprofit charitable purpose. OpenCape holds bi-weekly conference calls with federal granting authorities, to ensure it is moving forward consistent with its grant obligations. OpenCape submits quarterly financial and progress reports to four different federal and state agencies. OpenCape has undergone two independent audits, under the more stringent A133 “Audits of States, Local Governments, and Non-Profit Organizations” standard. Its auditor has described OpenCape, among hundreds of nonprofits audited, as “one of the cleanest operations they have ever seen.”
OpenCape has tackled a large regional problem, affecting five counties. The network was designed with input from community meetings. The first meeting about the OpenCape concept was held in June, 2006, and Island officials were invited to attend. Although well over 100 people attended this meeting, only one person from the Island was in attendance. Outreach to the Island continued in 2007 and in 2008. OpenCape held a highly publicized summit with the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission as the keynote speaker. Again, there was very little Island interest or participation.
Private initiatives promising larger rewards were the focus of some Island officials at that time. There were two private fiber optic initiatives seeking grant and loan funding. Unfortunately, there was little interest in our project in the early stages. OpenCape met with officials from West Tisbury regarding one initiative and submitted a letter of support for another in its grant application, as we considered it a welcome enhancement to our goals. As we now know, both of those initiatives failed to obtain funding while OpenCape is fully funded at $40 million, and its construction of a comprehensive telecommunications infrastructure for Southeast Massachusetts is nearly complete.
As neither of the two private initiatives was successful in obtaining grants, some were tempted to go back to a funded project that was previously ignored and try to get more out of it. Demands by some commentators that we would not provide some of our grant money to them for their desired solutions are uninformed about the requirements of federal granting. Additionally, they claim that the microwave system proposed for the Islands is insufficient to meet Island needs, and is an afterthought.
When the project was first conceived, the entire network was being planned as one based upon microwave radios. OpenCape developed an extended fiber-optic proposal only after the federal government announced the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) in July, 2009. At that time, we considered including an undersea fiber-optic link to the Island, but it became clear that this could not be built within the timeframe allowed by the stimulus program, and as such, the microwave link to the Island was maintained as the only feasible solution.
Finally, I must speak to the comments about the quality of the microwave service to Martha’s Vineyard, as some are dismissive of its value. OpenCape is providing an engineered, highly reliable connection with a capacity in excess of 1 gigabit/sec. This is sufficient for local government, public safety and school needs of the Island, with capacity to spare for commercial use. Comments that it will not work in bad weather are false. The OpenCape link has been designed with the full range of weather conditions in mind, up to a Category 3 hurricane. In fact, OpenCape has included microwave links on Cape Cod precisely because they are in some cases more survivable and have a faster time to repair than fiber.
Retrospection will not change the future. OpenCape is building the fastest and most reliable telecommunications infrastructure in the region for the public benefit. We have and will continue to work with all reasonable and serious partners who wish to advance the interests of the region in this critical infrastructure area — including Martha’s Vineyard.