FALMOUTH — Marilois Snowman initially founded her company, Mediastruction, in Falmouth a decade ago. However, she quickly realized the internet in town was not able to handle her workload as a digital marketing agency.
She often had problems uploading files and often got booted off Zoom calls.
She decided to move her business to Norwell, which provided her with a solid internet connection. With a 50-mile commute, she was close enough to her Falmouth home that she could still raise her kids without moving.
But when the pandemic hit, her college-age children began online classes and tests from home. She said the poor internet speed in Falmouth again created problems and her children sometimes lost access in the middle of a big test.
“To see my kids in tears because they’re afraid they’re going to fail this college exam because they don’t have internet, it’s just ridiculous,” said Snowman.
Snowman saw an ad in the Falmouth Enterprise about a community meeting about the town’s internet. When she arrived, she met a room full of people who had the same complaints.
She jumped at the opportunity to be a board member at FalmouthNet, a non-profit advocacy group that wants the town to establish its own fiber optic network.
The group recently had a major win at Town Meeting, where voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of a municipal internet utility. The next big step will be in November, when a municipal light board will be elected, which will be tasked with bringing a concrete plan before the town.
What is the purpose of FalmouthNet?
Courtney Bird, founder of FalmouthNet, said the pandemic underscored the need fast and reliable internet. With things like telemedicine and remote learning, people are relying moreon the internet, according to FalmouthNet’s website.
FalmouthNet is advocating for a fiber optic network that would serve as an alternative to private providers such as Comcast. According to Bird, fiber optic networks can transmit much more data than a typical hybrid network.
“Fiber optics have much greater capacity to transmit data…almost infinitely greater,” said Bird.
FalmouthNet is looking at speeds of one gigabyte for both upload and download, at a subscriber costs of about $70 a month, though those numbers are not concrete. Bird said fiber optic networks allow constant upgrades, so the speeds could increase as technology advances.
A municipal enterprise would give Falmouth the attention it needs, since Bird believes companies like Comcast aren’t as motivated to bring internet standards up in less-dense areas such as the Cape.
Opposition to municipal internet utilities
However, not everyone thinks a municipal internet utility is a good idea.
Tim Wilkerson, president of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, an industry lobbying group, said town government wouldn’t be able to handle the weight of supplying internet to the community.
“The government does a lot of things well, and broadband networks are not one of them,” said Wilkerson.
Wilkerson also mentioned that if anything, the pandemic highlights the efficiency of private broadband networks.
“During the pandemic…you have not seen any headlines where you’ve seen private broadband networks fail,” he said.
He said the private broadband industry was able to provide people with necessities even when other businesses, such as grocery stores, could not.
Wilkerson disagrees with the notion that fiber optic networks are better than current hybrid networks. He said hybrid networks are fiber-rich, and software upgrades will soon allow hybrid networks to achieve 10 gigabyte speeds.
He also said municipally operated networks have a track record of failing when competing against private networks. Two failures he pointed to were Groton, Connecticut and Burlington, Vermont, which he said left taxpayers on the hook for tens of millions of dollars.
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However, the possibility of failure isn’t deterring FalmouthNet.
“There’s always a chance of failure, that’s why it’s so important that this municipal light plant and its board develop a really workable plan that works for the town of Falmouth,” said Bird.