Chafee keeps the ball rolling on super-high-speed Internet
When he was a candidate in 2010, Governor Chafee issued a "Plan for Jobs” that he promised to implement in the first 100 days of his administration.
Since the Chafee administration is now nearly 700 days old, it"s high time to ask how he"s doing on one of the first specific items mentioned in that 100-day plan, which is still posted on his campaign website.
"We can target major infrastructure improvements, such as super-high-speed Internet connectivity, that will attract businesses just as traditional transportation systems attract business,” the document said. "This new infrastructure is critical in enabling Rhode Island to compete with Massachusetts and other communication hubs for high-tech industry and related high-paying jobs.”
When asked what Chafee had done about "super-high-speed Internet connectivity,” spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger noted that Rhode Island received $4.5 million in federal stimulus money for a broadband mapping and planning program.
And she noted that OSHEAN, a nonprofit group based in North Kingstown, received $21.7 million in federal stimulus money to build a 339-mile fiber-optic network, which is meant to bolster Internet access for hundreds of schools, libraries, universities and hospitals in Rhode Island.
But hold on. President Obama signed the $787-billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) into law in February 2009. And those Rhode Island grants were announced in 2009 and 2010. So what does Chafee, who took office in 2011, have to do with any of it?
Hunsinger said the state matched the $4.5-million grant with $1.1 million in state resources (no money but office space and staff time). And, she said, the state Economic Development Corporation is administering the Broadband Rhode Island program that resulted from the federal grant.
"The money was awarded before, but the programs have been administered under the governor, with his support and through the EDC,” she said. "We get blame for when things go wrong. We should get credit for what goes right.”
Also, Hunsinger said the Chafee administration has provided essential support for the $21.7-million fiber-optic network project. "If you look at where those lines are going, lots of those are state institutions, schools, universities, all in cooperation and coordination with state government,” she said.
So what is the money being used for?
David Marble, president and CEO of OSHEAN (Ocean State Higher Education and Administration Network), said that thus far, the money has been used to install about 300 miles of the planned 339-mile fiber-optic network, which will extend to every county in Rhode Island and neighboring Bristol County, Mass.
He said the state is now 2.5 years into the 3-year project, which is connecting "community anchor institutions” such as Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Hospital and South County Hospital, plus dozens of schools, libraries and state agencies.
The network will not serve individual homes or for-profit businesses, which will continue to rely on local Internet service providers, Marble said. But having the state"s educational system, its government and its medical and research institutions connected to a high-speed network will improve the business climate here, he said.
So is this the "super-high-speed Internet connectivity” that Chafee targeted?
Marble said "super high speed” is an "amorphous” term, but the "backbone” of this network can handle 400 gigabits per second. "No one would argue: That is definitely super-high-speed Internet,” he said. "It is an extraordinary asset.”
With lateral connections off the "backbone,” the network will allow schools and libraries to connect at 1,000 megabits per second -- about 50 times faster than the speeds now offered on average in Rhode Island homes; researchers at universities and hospitals will connect at 10,000 megabits, according to OSHEAN.
Marble said the Rhode Island project, which includes $10.7 million in private contributions, will create one of the nation"s best regional research-and-education computer networks. The project is expected to create 210 direct jobs, and once it"s complete, it will be up to Rhode Island to capitalize on the new broadband capacity to compete with the likes of Massachusetts for high-tech jobs, he said.
The expanded broadband capacity is needed, for example, when a hospital transmits a three-dimensional brain scan, when an oceanographic vessel transmits video of the ocean floor to the classroom, or when a research institution crunches and transmits vast amounts of data, Marble said. "The applications are endless,” he said.
Clearly, Rhode Island"s pursuit of "super-high-speed Internet connectivity” began before Chafee took office, and the vast majority of the funding is coming from the federal government. So he can"t claim all the credit. But Chafee"s administration has provided key support for the work, which dovetails with his focus on spurring economic development through medical and educational institutions ("meds and eds”). At this point, the project is not complete, but it has made substantial progress.
So we rate this promise In the Works.
Interview, Christine Hunsinger, Governor Chafee"s spokeswoman, Nov. 20 and 27, 2012
Interview, David Marble, president and CEO of OSHEAN, Nov. 27, 2012
Email, Christian Vareika, Governor Chafee"s office, Nov. 21, 2012
Ocean State Higher Education and Administration Network website
Broadband Rhode Islandwebsite
ChafeeForGovernor.com, "The First One Hundred Days Plan for Jobs,”accessed Nov. 20, 2012.