FALMOUTH — Marilois Snowman originally founded his company, Mediastruction, in Falmouth ten years ago. However, she quickly realized that the internet in town was unable to handle her workload as a digital marketing agency.
She often had problems downloading files and was often started by Zoom calls.
She decided to move her business to Norwell, which provided her with a strong internet connection. With a 50 mile drive, she was close enough to her Falmouth home to be able to raise her children without moving.
But when the pandemic hit, her college-age children started online lessons and tests from home. She said low internet speeds in Falmouth again created problems and her children sometimes lost access in the middle of a big test.
“Seeing my kids in tears because they’re afraid they’ll fail that college exam because they don’t have the internet is just ridiculous,” Snowman said.
Snowman saw an ad in the Falmouth company for a community meeting on the town’s Internet. When she arrived, she met a room full of people who had the same complaints.
She jumped at the chance to be a board member of FalmouthNet, a non-profit advocacy group that wants the town to establish its own fiber optic network.
The group recently won a major victory at the Town Meeting, where voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of a municipal internet service. The next big step will be in November, when a City Lighting Council is elected, which will be tasked with presenting a concrete plan to the city.
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What is the purpose of FalmouthNet?
Courtney Bird, founder of FalmouthNet, said the pandemic has underscored the need for fast and reliable internet. With things like telemedicine and distance learning, people are relying more on the internet, according to the FalmouthNet website.
FalmouthNet advocates 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.
“Optical fiber has a much greater capacity to transmit data…almost infinitely greater,” Bird said.
FalmouthNet is looking at gigabyte speeds for uploading and downloading, at a subscription cost of around $70 a month, though those numbers aren’t concrete. Bird said fiber optic networks allow for constant upgrades, so speeds could increase as technology advances.
A municipal company would give Falmouth the attention it needs, as Bird believes companies like Comcast aren’t as motivated to raise internet standards in less dense areas such as Cape Town.
Opposition to municipal internet services
However, not everyone thinks a municipal Internet service is a good idea.
Tim Wilkerson, president of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, an industry lobby group, said the city government would not be able to handle the burden of providing internet to the community.
“The government does a lot of things right, and broadband networks aren’t one of them,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson also mentioned that the pandemic highlights the effectiveness of private broadband networks.
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“During the pandemic…you haven’t seen any headlines where you’ve seen private broadband networks go down,” he said.
He said the private broadband industry was able to provide people with basic necessities even when other businesses, such as grocery stores, could not.
Wilkerson disagrees 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 reach speeds of 10 gigabytes.
He also said that municipally-run networks have a history of failing when competing with 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 does not deter FalmouthNet.
“There’s always a chance of failure, which is why it’s so important that this municipal lighting factory and its council come up with a really workable plan that works for the town of Falmouth,” Bird said.