Open Cape Celebrates Two Years, Looks To Improve Cell Phone Service

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Dan Gallagher, former co-founder of Open Cape, shows off the service racks that Open Cape rents out to municipalities and other entities on the Cape. Speed and reliability are two main benefits provided by the Open Cape broadband network, he said.

Dan Gallagher, former co-founder of Open Cape, shows off the service racks that Open Cape rents out to municipalities and other entities on the Cape. Speed and reliability are two main benefits provided by the Open Cape broadband network, he said.

BARNSTABLE – Improved cell phone service on the Cape is on the way, according to officials of Open Cape, the 350-mile high-speed fiber optic broadband network that went online two years ago.

All 15 of the Cape’s town halls, as well as its public schools and large institutions, make use of the network, which celebrated its second birthday yesterday at its headquarters in the old jail at the county complex in Barnstable Village.

The network connects Cape Cod via broadband south to Providence and north through Brockton all the way to Boston.

Open Cape is funded by the Open Cape Corporation, a nonprofit that selected CapeNet, a for-profit company, to build and operate the network.

Alan Davis, President and CEO of CapeNet, explained the relationship between the two companies. Open Cape, he said, owns the asset of the network.

As for CapeNet, “We are there to sustain the economic viability of the network by selling telecommunication services that can operate on the network,” Davis said.

CapeNet is a $5 million operation with seven employees that uses subcontractors to provide services to the network and for customers, he said.

Davis said Open Cape has already made improvements in the region.

“It’s certainly improved the quality of life. It’s brought all kinds of potential for economic development by bringing the Cape into the 21st century of communications,” he said.

Before Open Cape laid its network, with some wires underground but mostly overhead, the length of the peninsula, the Cape did not have high-speed broadband service available.

“That meant it couldn’t attract businesses. It couldn’t support educational institutions properly. It couldn’t allow government to operate efficiently. Now with this giant network that has unlimited capacity, it allows all of those things to happen,” Davis said.

As for what Open Cape has done for the average Cape Codder, Davis said that while the network is not currently available to individual homeowners, it may be in the future.

But he said there are three ways the network helps individuals on Cape Cod now.

The first is the fact that the network is used by all 15 municipalities on the Cape, as well as nine Cape Cod public school districts and two colleges.

“We allow those institutions to be able to use the latest educational tools, like tablets, bringing in all kinds of devices that require large amounts of bandwidth. So, we’ve improved the educational experience for family members who are attending these institutions,” Davis said.

Secondly, Davis said the network enhances the job opportunities on the Cape because the technological “super highway” makes the region attractive to more employers.

But Davis said the improvement that will probably be most apparent to the average Cape Codder has to do with cell phone service.

“We are presently building extensions of the network to cell towers, which are going to allow those towers to go from 3G to 4G. Anybody who owns a smartphone will get much better, faster use of that cell phone because of what we’ve been able to bring to the table,” he said.

Davis explained that any business can connect to the network but unless they are located directly on the network, there is a cost to build a lateral connection, similar to connecting to a gas line. “Obviously we try to keep the cost down. We try to absorb as much of that cost as we can but there is still a cost,” Davis said.

The business then pays a monthly fee for the use of the broadband.

Dan Gallagher, the former CEO of Open Cape and co-founder of the network, returned last month to run the nonprofit during a search for a new CEO.

Gallagher said that when he retired from the company in 2012, the network was nearly completed. Now that it is up and running, Gallagher said, he is very impressed at “how reliable it is and how it meets the specifications for redundant connections and diversity.”

As an example, Gallagher said that during this past winter’s storms, there were five times when the network’s fiber optics were damaged and the snow prevented immediate repairs.

“Yet every customer still had service because of the way our network was designed to travel a different path if there’s an obstruction or damage to a cable or a telephone pole has been knocked down,’ he said.

Gallagher said Open Cape has also created a competitive marketplace for network service on the Cape. When he started the project in 2006, Gallagher said that Cape Cod Community College was paying $45,000 for 4.5 megabytes of data storage, which, he said, is less than most people have at home these days.

With Open Cape, Gallagher said, “They can get one hundred times that for less money.”

The competition has lowered prices substantially, he said.

“Those companies that traditionally had a footprint here didn’t have to respond to the marketplace because they had a near monopoly. Those folks could charge anything they wanted. That’s changed tremendously now,” he said.

As to the improved cell phone service that will be coming, Gallagher said that people on the Cape were experiencing dropped calls not because there weren’t cell phone towers but because there wasn’t adequate capacity in the lines that carry the data from the cell towers.

“We’re addressing that. We’re building the fiber optics to every cell tower on Cape Cod,” he said.

Gallagher said another major reason for bringing the Open Cape network to the region was to service the Outer Cape towns, which would often lose all communication, including 9-1-1 service due to a storm or even a single pole going down.

“That resulted because there was a single copper telephone wire basically running out from Orleans all the way to Provincetown, so it was very easy to take down the whole Outer Cape.

We not only built fiber optics to every one of those towns, we created a microwave backup system for that really bad storm that might come. Those are tremendous advantages for our community now,” he said.

Like Davis, Gallagher also spoke to the economic development improvements that Open Cape has brought to some of the major employers in the region.

Gallagher said the network’s first customer was Joint Base Cape Cod and there is a good reason for that.

“The base is always at the top of base closure lists. One of the reasons was they didn’t have adequate connectivity to the Department of Defense to do what they do there. We solved that problem for them,” he said.

Another example of a large institution that needed the service is the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“With all the data they push on and off Cape, you can’t have that be an institution with any kind of limitation, because, frankly, that research dollar can go to California,” he said.

One of the major goals of Open Cape, Gallagher said, Is “to lower the cost of government and improve services.”

Toward that goal, Open Cape has a large data center that can be used by municipalities or other customers for shared applications. For example, if a small town like Eastham needs backup service for municipal data, Open Cape can provide that.

“We have one large server farm here that can take care of all those needs,” he said. That “server farm” has 130 servers running data for towns on the Cape at this point. In the meantime, other counties, like Nantucket, have inquired about using the service.

Another cost saver for municipalities that Gallagher envisions is having every municipal phone call handled through the Open Cape network.

“That can save towns 30 to 50 percent on their communications costs,” he said.

Gallagher said he foresees a time in the future when they might expand the network to cover one of the Cape’s villages, but he said it all depends on financing.

“It would cost $150 million to deliver fiber to every home on the Cape. Nobody’s giving us that money,” he said, opining that he does not believe Cape Codders want taxes raised to pay for that service.

Instead, he said, Open Cape is looking at other ways to expand, taking advantage of its nonprofit status, as well as CapeNet’s for-profit status.

“It’s all about capital. It’s really about raising money. It’s private and public money. Can we come up with projects that not only address a critical need within the community or a way to save government money but that can expand our network at the same time,” he asked. “We’re starting to develop those projects now and we’re out seeking funding for them.”
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