Fiber optic cable to Vineyard under review
A proposal by GPCS Fiber Communications to run a fiber optic cable underwater from Fairhaven to Tisbury, via Woods Hole, is undergoing review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE).
ACE issued a news release on February 2 describing GPCS's application for a federal permit to work in the waters of Buzzard Bay and Vineyard Sound to install an underwater cable from the mainland to Martha's Vineyard. The ACE's public comment period for the plan runs through March 4.
The submerged portion of the fiber optic cable will be plowed and covered at least four feet below the sea bottom. Although burying the cable will affect essential fish habitat temporarily, the Corps has made a preliminary determination that adverse effects will not be substantial, according to the news release.
The cable's route begins on land at an AT&T facility in Fairhaven and runs south along Sconticut Neck to the Wilbur Point peninsula. From there, it will extend across Buzzards Bay to Woods Hole, and from Nobska Point, cross the sound to Tashmoo beach, according to Tisbury department of public works director (DPW) Fred LaPiana.
The fiber optic cable will run from Tashmoo to a switching station on Tisbury's DPW property. From there, the high-speed capability will extend Island-wide, Mr. LaPiana said.
"This cable will connect to the national telecommunications grid at Fairhaven and through the AT&T facility, so it will be direct fiber connectivity to the national network," Mr. LaPiana said. "The reliability and the high-speed bandwidth that we don't have now will be available."
Tisbury voters approved a warrant article at a special town meeting in March 2008 to allow GPCS to build a 25- by 35-foot switching station for a fiber optic network on DPW property. In exchange Tisbury will receive a line for the sewer plant and a line for municipal facilities.
GPCS Fiber plans to lease use of the new cable to Island businesses interested in providing phone, Internet, and television services on Martha's Vineyard. Existing service providers such as Verizon and Comcast may also pay to use the new bandwidth. GPCS also offered to act as the "provider of last resort" for households that cannot get access to services from existing companies, Mr. LaPiana said. Currently, although phone, television, and Internet traffic travels across the Island via some type of cable, it is transmitted to the mainland by microwave and satellite links, Mr. LaPiana said.
A fiber optic cable would provide a technological leap for the Island, GPCS chief operating officer Andrew Nanaa explained in a recent phone call.
The microwave antenna now used to send all communications, except for television, across to the mainland is located on the Verizon property on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Mr. Nanaa said.
When someone makes a cell phone call on Martha's Vineyard, the signal reaches a tower, which sends it to the microwave antenna, which transmits it to a service provider. Then the signal comes back across the microwave antenna to the person called.
"If you're talking to another cell phone on the Island, it does that twice. It makes four round trips just for you to say, I'm around the corner," Mr. Nanaa said.
"What fiber optic cable does is it changes the horse and buggy to a Ferrari. The cable will be terminated on the mainland at the main point of presence for AT&T, and it will come straight to Martha's Vineyard. So the fiber strand that hits the Island will be tied into the world at the speed of light."
A combination of private investment and loans will finance the project, Mr. Nanaa said. Laying the submerged fiber optic cable between Fairhaven to Tisbury will cost approximately $7 million of the project's estimated total cost of $35 million.
GPCS Fiber Communications was formed in August 2009 specifically to install the cable and get the permitting done, Mr. Nanaa said. The company, headed by president Charles Robben, is registered in Massachusetts as a domestic for-profit corporation, with offices in Vineyard Haven at 470 Franklin Avenue and in Worcester.
Following the ACE permitting process, Mr. Nanaa said the fiber optic cable project will be reviewed by conservation commissions in the towns involved, as part of the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency's permitting process. The project also may be referred to the Cape Cod Commission and Martha's Vineyard Commission for review.
Tisbury voters will be asked at special town meeting on April 6 for approval to bring the cable onto town property. GPCS hopes to lay the cable sometime between October and December, this year, Mr. Nanaa said.