April 12, 2012 By Tanya Roscorla
This summer and fall, parts of a southeast Massachusetts regional communications infrastructure project will be available for schools, government agencies and public safety personnel to access as they serve their communities.
Through a $32 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant and $8 million in matching funds, the OpenCape project has the funding it needs and is on pace to meet the Jan. 31 completion date set by the grantees.
Once the project is completed, schools could share faster Internet services and common apps.
Government agencies could share regional applications and GIS databases.
And public safety personnel could use a regional 911 dispatch system, be able to support a national mobile public safety system and have a microwave backup system for their communications.
CapeNet LLC is managing construction of the 350-mile fiber-optic network and will be selling access to the network once it's done. Ciena Corp. and Integration Partners are providing coherent optical transport and Carrier Ethernet solutions for the OpenCape Network.
So far, CapeNet has laid about 55 miles of fiber out of the 300 miles scheduled to go from Providence to Provincetown and from Cape Cod to Boston, said Dan Gallagher, CEO of OpenCape Corp., a nonprofit organization formed to spearhead the project. Another 50 miles will connect off the main line to 70 anchor institutions. Some microwave components are being built now, and a collocation center is being renovated.
In each town, the group has selected four or five anchor institutions — such as schools, libraries, town halls and police stations — to connect on a municipal regional area network. These regional networks allow small towns to access services and applications they couldn't afford before, Gallagher said.
"We have towns here with populations in Massachusetts that have 500 households, so they don't have an economy of scale to be able to really do anything efficiently or effectively," Gallagher said. "By creating this network where they're all connected together, now they have this opportunity for collaboration and aggregation of services and shared applications."
The School Benefits
Ten to 12 schools serve as anchor institutions because they're designated as shelters that residents go to when hurricanes and other violent storms hit, Gallagher said. These schools will be able to access a 1 gigabit per second shared Internet service.
On top of that, they'll use a connection from Internet2, a not-for-profit advanced networking consortium that provides schools with access to its high-speed network. And they can share common apps, such as learning management systems and student information systems.
When Gallagher was the CIO of Cape Cod Community College, he converted the community college from a proprietary, expensive learning management system to the open source and no-charge Moodle learning management system.
Now the college and K-12 school districts use the same kind of system, which allows them to work and learn together. These are the kinds of things OpenCape hopes to bring to education through its network.
The Government Benefits
Government has a huge opportunity to collaborate and aggregate through OpenCape, Gallagher said.
One of the first apps that will be introduced is e-permitting, licensing and inspection. Someone could buy this software for the whole region and create specific town instances of it if they chose. It would run on a common back end, hardware and license.
"The savings are tremendous because of the single common support element," Gallagher said. "But everybody gets the benefit of this very advanced software for delivering services to their community that frankly they could not deliver on their own."
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