Wareham high-speed internet access ‘archaic and overpriced’
After conducting some research into the status of the town’s internet infrastructure, the Wareham Redevelopment Authority’s newest member, Dan Butler, shared insight into the topic and examined some ideas for the future of connectivity in Wareham.
He described Wareham’s current internet infrastructure as “archaic and overpriced.”
Because the major internet providers, Verizon and Comcast, have essentially cornered the market in Wareham, they’re able to set higher prices without much competition. Butler suggested the town might combat rising prices for internet access in one of a few ways — including potentially working toward becoming an internet service provider itself.
“Market surveys will show that citizens and businesses in our town are paying more than they need to for world-class telecommunications architecture that is currently available for the town of Wareham,” Butler said during the board’s Dec. 9 meeting.
He pointed out that citizens and businesses have relied on telecommunications infrastructure including the internet more than ever before during the pandemic.
One bright spot, however, is that it’s just about time for Wareham to renegotiate its license agreements with Verizon and Comcast. In March 2023, the agreement with Verizon will be up for renegotiation and the agreement with Comcast will follow in June 2025.
“The fact of the matter is we don’t have very many service providers available to our businesses and to our citizens in the town that can provide them access to the so-called information highway,” Butler said.
That puts the town in a difficult position.
“We’re really being held hostage,” he said. “This really is a classic monopoly environment where one or two providers have control over very expensive infrastructure that only they will use … and they can effectively charge whatever the market will bear. There really is no effective competition.”
Butler pitched that it might be time to “modernize” the town — particularly corridors primed for reinvigoration and redevelopment, such as downtown Wareham Village.
According to Butler, one possible opportunity for improving the town’s internet infrastructure would be by utilizing OpenCape’s 100% fiber optic “backbone.”
OpenCape is a Barnstable-based non-profit organization that owns and operates a fiber optic network that provides “reliable and affordable broadband access for businesses, healthcare providers, educational institutions and municipalities,” in Southeastern Massachusetts and on the Cape.
“This backbone provides the most expensive, the most difficult part of building out a municipal fiber optic network, and it’s here,” he said. “It runs right down Main Street.”
Butler pointed out that the town is already utilizing the OpenCape network to some extent already — both Town Hall and the Wareham Fire Department are “plugged into” it already. A representative from OpenCape confirmed that Tobey Hospital and Rosebrook are connected to the network as well.
To his knowledge, Butler said that private businesses could negotiate contracts with OpenCape directly to plug into the fiber optic network.
But many entities aren’t tied in.
Butler encouraged members of the Redevelopment Authority to consider classifying internet service as a type of “critical infrastructure” similar to electricity, roadways or a sewer system.
He said that if the town invested in the hopes of becoming its own internet service provider, it could “reap the benefits” long-term.
“This is potentially an expensive and a risky infrastructure investment project that we would be contemplating,” he said. “But it also has the upside of potentially being a way to bring really badly needed funds into the Town of Wareham that would allow us to improve all the services that are important to us in town government and to our citizens.”
Both Falmouth and Fairhaven have been working to establish town-owned and operated telecommunications networks, Butler said.
He thought the town’s role would be either helping further build out the fiber optic backbone — or potentially encouraging developers to build off the OpenCape network.
Butler is also a member of the town’s Cable Advisory Committee and will be presenting the information he shared with the Redevelopment Authority with that committee as well.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “But it’s one of those hard things that we probably need to tackle, and that’s why I’ve thrown it out there for our consideration.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Tobey Hospital and Rosebrook are also connected to the OpenCape network.