The Economics of Fiber

The Economics of FiberWe’re all online these days. Working from home and accessing classes online is our only option. Not to mention, relying on the internet and cellphones to get in touch with loved ones. 

But how’s that working on Nantucket? Having spotty service is a common thing here. Lots of frozen Zooms and choppy conversations. Many have come to accept this as a quirk of living 30 miles out to sea. But maybe it takes a crisis to bring about change.

That’s where OpenCape comes in. 

OpenCape is a nonprofit out of Barnstable that operates an open-access fiber-optic network serving local governments, businesses, and residents of Southeastern Mass, the Cape & Islands. By acting as competition to traditional internet providers, OpenCape has improved service and brought down pricing for its customers. We spoke with CEO, Steven Johnston, and it just so happens Nantucket is high on his priority list.

Steven explained that laying fiber-optic cable across the Nantucket Sound is a lot easier and cheaper than adding a third electric cable. He estimates it would cost $6.5 million to bring “unlimited capacity” to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. From there we could go one of two routes. We could follow in the Cape’s footsteps and grow organically by connecting businesses and others who can afford to run lines. Or, we as a community could build and operate our own network. Just like Westfield, MA. 

Westfield saw the opportunity to invest in a fiber-optic infrastructure as a necessity, like gas and electricity. Today, town-owned Whip City Fiber provides broadband access to over 70% of the community. The demand is so high it’s expanding to neighboring towns. As one resident put it: “It’s a valuable, locally owned utility. No rental fees for equipment, one flat rate month to month with no surprise charges.” It’s fast enough that many customers have gotten rid of cable altogether.

Fiber is also the key to reliable cell phone reception. In fact, it’s critical to 5G mobile networks.  

How much would it cost to build an island-wide network? The CEO of OpenCape thinks between $15-$20 million. Add the cost of laying the cabling in the Sound, and we have an island on fiber for under $30 million. Not out of reach when compared to sewer projects.

Why do we need a stronger connection to the world? Fiber-optic is an economic development tool. We need it to improve a small business’ ability to operate, grow career opportunities for islanders, raise the standard of living, and over time diversify the economy beyond tourism and construction. 

Ultimately, it’s one more step towards a more resilient island. 

2020 Citizen’s Warrant Articles List

Click below to download a handy PDF of all citizen’s warrant articles with town counsel comments, complete wording, and links to maps where appropriate. Feel free to share this link with anyone who wants to better understand ATM. And stay tuned for more info as the warrant comes together.

Housing on Nantucket: The Basics.

Want to better understand the housing situation on Nantucket? Need a refresher on the kinds of housing the town and other non-profits are working to create? Do terms like the SHI list, 40Bs, HUD requirements and the legal definition of the word “affordable” make your head swim? Listen to this 27-minute recording with Tucker Holland, the Town’s Housing Director and Brooke Moore, Vice-Chair of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund recently made at WNCK, Nantucket’s NPR Station, 89.5 on the Town Talk show with Mellisa Murphy. The result will be 100% housing literacy.

ATM 2020 ACK•Now Citizens Articles.

Good morning, Islanders.

This is another in a series of weekly morning notes to our subscribers and friends of ACK•Now. Thank you so much for inviting us into your inbox. Today we will give you a preview of the warrant articles ACK•Now filed with the town last week.

ACK•Now, as an organization, has been up and running for just six weeks — not a lot of time. We still have not convened all of our workgroups as of this writing. But despite our status as a fledgling not-for-profit, we did make a conscious decision to add two articles to the town meeting warrant for April 2020. These were two articles that the organization’s leadership felt could make a meaningful impact on the quality of life of island residents.

With the short runway up to the citizens warrant articles deadline, we recognized that these may require some work and tweaking before ATM. But we feel they are a good step forward that underscores the mission and vision of the organization. The actual language of the articles is at the end of this post, for your convenience.

One: A phase-out of gas-powered leaf blowers by Dec 1, 2020.

This article is an attempt to solve two problems. The lesser of the two is the environmental impact of smaller two-stroke engines for both landscapers and the people around them. The second and larger problem is noise. With a growing population on the island, we all need to be more sensitive to the impact our activities have on the rest of the community. Loud hand-held machines like gas-powered leaf blowers represent an unnecessary intrusion into the peace and quiet of a beautiful island and are a health risk to those who must operate them — especially given that better technology currently exists. Battery-powered blowers are powerful, long-lasting and 10-35 dB(A) quieter. ACK•Now will work to help landscapers with outreach to customers about the benefits and potential bylaw change so that customers can understand why there may be a cost pass through.

Two: A pilot program to gather data on commercial deliveries.

Until there is a viable, legal and workable way to limit vehicles on Nantucket, the solution to our traffic and parking problems is a basic one: take turns and share. We can’t all use the roadways of the island at the same time and expect to get where we need to go when we want to get there. So we need to make it possible for some operators to use the road when others are not using it. And vice-versa. To that end, we have filed a warrant article with the town to develop a pilot program to study commercial vehicle deliveries and their impact on traffic and parking. The measure also proposes a shift in delivery times for the largest trucks. The idea here is to use technology to track deliveries and measure times, locations and the impact those deliveries have on traffic. We are currently looking at various tech vendors to capture that data and happily, there are several good options from which to choose. Bottom line: the data in this area is nearly non-existent and if we are going to make any progress in making downtown accessible for everyone, we need the data. (And we plan to share the data with everyone.) ACK•Now will fund the pilot program and work out the logistics between now and town meeting so that it is equitable to all. Plus we’ll be engaging with both businesses and delivery companies to make sure the ultimate solution is workable.

We did not expect everyone to embrace these measures right away, but the folks we have talked to have been supportive and enthusiastic. We welcome questions and comments. Check out the article language below.

And have a great Monday.

2020 Spring Town Meeting
Warrant Article
ACKNow, Inc.
November 2019

Article One

To see if the Town will vote to amend the Town of Nantucket Noise Bylaw in the following manner: Amend Section 101-2 of the Town’s Code of Bylaws to prohibit, on a Town-wide basis commencing on December 1, 2020, the use of gas-powered leaf blowers at all times of the day on all days of the year, by any commercial landscaper, commercial landscape company, or other entity engaged in the business of providing home and yard repair, clean-up, and maintenance services for a fee; or take any other action on the matter.

Explanation: Complaints regarding gas-powered leaf blowers by property owners and gardening contractors have been increasing as the use of these tools has also increased. The environmental impact of such gas-powered equipment has also become a growing concern. Finally, it appears that some local commercial landscaping companies have already adopted battery-powered leaf blowers as an effective alternative with much-reduced noise levels.

2020 Spring Town Meeting
Warrant Article
ACKNow, Inc.
November 2019

Article Two

To see if the Town will vote to direct the Select Board, as part of its administration of the Town’s public ways pursuant to Article 200 of the Town’s Code of Bylaws (the “Traffic Rules and Regulations”), to develop a pilot program between June 15, 2020, and September 15, 2020, for (a) tracking the level of compliance of certain Heavy Commercial Vehicles, as defined in the Traffic Rules and Regulations, with a vehicle body length exceeding twenty-one (21) feet (“Large HCVs”) with the Town’s Noise Bylaw; and (b) adjusting the hours of delivery by Large HCVs to the downtown core district to between 5:00 am to 10:00 am and 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm during such period for the purposes of reducing traffic congestion and gathering more granular data than is currently available on time of day, size and weight of vehicle, type of commercial use, and access locations of Large HCVs on the Town’s public ways within the downtown core district with the purpose of considering further regulation of the size of such vehicles permitted on said public ways (or a subset thereof), which public ways may be so accessed, in which areas, and during which hours; or take any other action on the matter.

Explanation: There has been a noticeable increase in commercial deliveries, especially from the largest heavy commercial vehicles, delivering in the downtown core district. ACKNow volunteers its time and resources working with the Town to put together the requisite analytical framework by collaborating with businesses and commercial delivery companies to put a pilot program in place for the summer of 2020, including adjusting delivery times for the largest heavy commercial vehicles in the downtown core district and identifying measurable factors that will determine the success of the pilot program and whether it should be permanently implemented. This pilot project is an opportunity to learn about one aspect of congestion and inform a long-term strategy to help alleviate commercial traffic in the island’s downtown core district.

Copyright © 2019 ACK•Now, All rights reserved.

The difference: Why ACK•Now is a 501(c)4, not a 501(c)3.

Good morning, Islanders.

This is the first in a series of weekly morning notes we will be sending our subscribers. Thank you so much for inviting us into your inbox. Today we thought we would give you some information on one of the things that sets ACK•Now apart.

One of the important distinctions between ACK•Now and other non-profits that the recent press coverage did not touch upon is a point key to the organization’s core beliefs — a difference that, for many, should make all the difference. We are a 501(c)(4) non-profit. And not a 501(c)(3).

So, what does this mean? First, it means we are organized to primarily promote public and social benefits. A garden variety 501(c)(3) can be an arts organization that caters only to people who love Strindberg, a church of any denomination, a private social club like the Wharf Rats, or a charity that addresses a specific need. But a public welfare non-profit — a 501(c)(4) — has to be run for the benefit of the many.

Some common examples of 501(c)(4) corporations include volunteer fire departments, Miss America and community service organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.

Here’s the definition from the IRS.gov web site:

To be tax-exempt as a social welfare organization described in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(c)(4), an organization must not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.

The word exclusively is important there. An organization like ACK•Now is not here to entertain the whims of a small group or focus on a pet project. We are organized to do good in a general sense for the general population of the island.

Another thing about being a 501(c)(4): it means a donation made to ACK•Now is not tax-deductible. In other words, people who give to a 501(c)(4) do so because they believe in the mission and the work being done and are definitely not doing it because they want to lower their tax liability.

And speaking of donations, as a 501(c)(4) we are obligated to file a form 990 with the IRS and disclose our donations. While some non-profits choose to redact the names of their donors, it is our policy to maintain full transparency and disclose the names of those who support us. We dislike the idea of dark money in politics as much as anyone.

Given the restrictions of being a 501(c)(4), one might ask why we did not decide to be a plain old 501(c)(3) instead. The answer is, that 501(c)(3) groups are limited by the IRS in how they can participate in the political process.

Being a 501(c)(4) means we are free to do the hard work necessary to make change happen. Like participate fully in town meetings and lobbying the statehouse. It means we can hire subject matter experts and legal counsel to push ideas forward. We can work with government. But we can also operate independently as long as we keep public benefit in mind.

Sure, there are downsides to being a 501(c)(4). There’s extra reporting. Compliance can be more complicated. And it’s somewhat harder to fundraise. But, ultimately the benefits win out.

It all comes down to this: Meaningful change cannot happen without political participation, and the 501(c)(4) designation allows us to participate as a political organization as long as no more than 50% of our income is spent to impact the political process. (The other 50% will be spent on things like research, knowledge base creation, team building, and public awareness projects.)

We felt that the time for this idea is now. Hope you agree.

Have a great week.

Copyright © 2019 ACK•Now, All rights reserved.

How do cities and towns pay for transportation?

Let’s face it. Making improvements to transportation requires funding and lots of it. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Massachusetts has put together its 2019 report on ways for Massachusetts cities and towns to pay for transportation improvements. Not all of these 14 suggestions relate directly to Nantucket, but they may spark some creative problem-solving.