Editorial: That was then, this is now – for broadband

The OpenCape effort to install the infrastructure for faster and more capacious broadband Internet access for the Cape and Islands will do us all a lot of good. Cape Cod will experience the best and fastest opportunities because of a fiber-optic cable that brings the service right to its doorstep. The Vineyard will experience something less than that, because the system here will rely on microwave technology, faster and better engineered than years ago, but nevertheless a step down.

Still, faster speeds, lower costs for participation, and freedom from the pricey restraints that now Verizon and Comcast alone enjoy, will be available here.

The bickering between Vineyard officials and OpenCape leadership must not stand in the way of this Island exploiting this opportunity. The tone of the exchanges between some Islanders and Dan Gallagher, chief of OpenCape, suggests that a pointless breach may very well be the sad result of all of OpenCape’s planning, spending, and work. When OpenCape’s microwave link is operational on the Island, the disagreements and retrospective blaming and defensiveness ought to end. Continuing the dispute will accrue to no one’s benefit.

This is a chance for necessary and desirable public service improvements, upgrades to television and other online services for households, and especially for commercial expansion that is economically important for Vineyard-based businesses, as well as for folks who want to do business in the big world but live here. We ought to be all over this.

It is certainly true that there was a moment to consider and then design an effort that would have resulted in the best broadband service to Cape Cod and the Island. That the moment was lost may have to do with the availability of funding. It may have been because the federal program that had the money to spend was created to get something — but not necessarily the best — built. It may have been inattention and lack of focus on the part of Vineyard leaders, or it may have been that the center of gravity for the whole OpenCape effort was on the mainland and left the legitimate needs of some of this constituent community undervalued and under represented.

Times writer Steve Myrick, in a September 12 MVTimes news report [Island towns lag in connecting to new communications network] wrote that Mr. Gallagher explained “that fiber-optic cable would be ideal for the Island, but OpenCape determined that the long and complex permitting process could not be completed within the time limits of the project, which must be complete and operational by January 31, 2013, under the terms of the stimulus grant.”

It may be that, by itself, the January 2013 time limit required that a good — better than prevails today — but not the best outcome for the Vineyard would result.

Whatever the hobbles, there will shortly be something to work with that cannot be other than an improvement. Vineyard leaders need to do their parts to repair the breach with OpenCape and start over, to drain every advantage possible from the opportunity that OpenCape’s infrastructure upgrade represents.