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Wilton's Fiber-Optic Plan Lacks BoF Support

The Wilton Board of Finance did not feel the proposed fiber-optic network plan lacked long-term cost estimates.

Declaring that they were not provided with long-term cost analysis, the Board of Finance (BoF) voted 4-2 to not support the town’s during Tuesday night’s BoF meeting at .

While the board’s vote does not seal the $1.65 million fiber-optic plan’s fate, it may send a message to Wilton voters that the plan should not be passed when it comes up to the public budget vote. If passed, the plan would link town hall, the library, and Wilton High School via an underground network connection.

“I would still like to see a more concise, better though-out analysis, I would feel a great deep tug of regret if we couldn’t take advantage of the trenching at all,” said Board of Finance member and Wilton Rep. Gail Lavielle, who supported laying the conduit but remained skeptical of the current plan. She stated that at its current stage, it would be “irresponsible” to recommend financing of the fiber-optic network as it stood, and that information on “opportunity costs, savings and tangible benefits” needed to be supplied.

First Selectman William Brennan and the town’s IT Director John Savarese felt that they had provided sufficient information in the form of a 105-page report. The BoF countered that future costs, which would include repairs, maintenance, replacements, and possible upgrades were inadequately explained and estimated.

When Bof Member Andy Pforzheimer asked Savarese for an estimate of what the project would cost three years from now if the plan were to be instituted in full today, Savarese did not answer with a number, instead questioning if the BoF were inquiring about maintenance costs, which caused dissatisfaction among BoF members.

“I feel just as frustrated as the others [board members],” said Lavielle. “There is a figure that says ‘This is what it will cost to install everything that needs to be installed, done, maintained, everything, to run this thing once it is at full throttle, during each year’ …You have to look out for the period of time that this thing would be finished and compare” it, said Lavielle. The comparison, it might be presumed, is to the costs of what the town currently has and how much the current network would cost in the future if no plan were enacted to the cost of the new plan.

Savarese asked exactly “what numbers” the BoF wanted, expressing that the report included relevant cost data.

Pforzheimer said that it was not good practice to provide such a document and “’say that the numbers are in there somewhere.’”

Proponents of the plan stressed that time to institute a fiber network are optimal, given that roads needed to be dug up for the . Digging up the roads is “half the battle,” said New Canaan’s IT Director Chris Kaiser, who spoke on the benefits of a fiber-optic system, which has been in place in New Canaan for 10 years. Kaiser said that New Canaan’s connected areas never lost phone or internet connectivity because of the underground wires. He said that the network was intuitive as well, and did not require third-party troubleshooting maintenance.

While the BoF agreed that it would be wise to implement the cables now, the board would not back the plan as it were.

Board member Al Alper disagreed with the plan enough to “recommend the town to vote it down,” expressing frustration that the BoF had asked for a clearly delineated plan but was not supplied with one. “The numbers aren’t there,” he said. “Many of the answers were prefaced with ‘I think’ and ‘It should’, and I don’t think that’s anything a board of finance should base a decision on.”

Residents will be able to vote for or against the fiber-optic plan on May 1 during Wilton’s annual town vote at the . 

Christopher DiMattio April 19, 2012 at 10:47 AM
I applaud the Board of Finance for coming to the proper conclusion. I have more than a casual understanding of such technology matters and have already expressed my grave concern with the folly of this project. Had I not been traveling this week, I would have attended the Board of Finance meeting to properly question the insane flaws of this proposal. While the Board of Fiannce questioned the costs, the issues are more weighty. There are significant technical, operational and financial concerns with regard to this large investment. The project is a solution in search of a problem. As a business executive, I am trained to focus on the basics: What are the precise, documented needs? What are the alternative solutions? Where is the financial justification? While there could be many concerning questions raised with regard to the requirements, this particular project should be dead on arrival from the simple perspective that alternative robust solutions are available at a lower cost.
Sue Donem April 19, 2012 at 12:06 PM
There is a very obvious plan B that should be explored and quantified: while the trenches are open, lay the conduit that the fiber would be housed in. This incremental cost is negligible. Depending on how the trench is designed, you could stop there, or take the next step and actually lay the fiber as well. This is still very cheap -- you don't need much of it anymore because new technologies allow you to transmit multiple streams of data over the same piece of fiber. To put it in perspective: the average cost of underground fiber for EVERYTHING (permits, trenching, etc.) is about $50k per mile. The incremental cost of what we're talking about is a fraction of that. Then just let it sit until someone comes up with a viable financial and use model that justifies lighting the fiber. Then you'll incur costs for the electronics and the miantenance.
Paul Lourd April 19, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Thanks for this article. I spoke at the meeting, along with two other citizens who felt this was not ready for prime time. Please remember that the 105 page report only describes laying the fiber, terminating it in the buildings and buying a nice shiny new generator for the library. ALL the other costs associated with the glossy PDF on the town web site describing the project are NOT included in the 1.6 million. In fact on page 11, this tells the story, direct quote: "fiber connection options will require a review/design of the network equipment and servers; and connectivity (high-speed Internet access, fail-over, filtering) for complete data redundancy." But the IT fellow from New Canaan did say they could see the levels of the vending machines with their new network. How Cool.
Paul Lourd April 19, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Also the fiber is not 100% underground. One of the main fiber paths will run up the telephone poles on Route 7 from the Town hall to the Board of Ed. The other parts of the fiber ring are underground. Including the fiber to the "garage" at Merwin Meadows. Is it critical for road repair guys to be connected at fiber speeds to the town network?
Connecticut15 April 19, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Thank you BoF for your diligence. I do not understand how the BoS could put this on the ballot without being able to address or provide the details of the project as requested by the BoF. If this had indeed been in the works for a while, why weren't the details, alternatives, and options, and cost/benefit analyses provided to the BoF much earlier? This process does not appear to be very transparent. I wonder why Mr. DiMattio's offer to help was ignored.
Paul Lourd April 19, 2012 at 10:25 PM
The conduit only idea was suggested by a member of the board. Possibly a good idea. You have to remember these other towns did their fiber when the primary alternative was pricey t1 and t3 lines. Aside from the fact that no identified business problem has been articulated, I bet Lightpath could provide the needed connectivity for less cost. Setup some VPN's and you are done. They are talking hundreds of strands of fiber. Insane.
Christopher DiMattio April 20, 2012 at 10:52 AM
I am not sure the conduit idea has legs. Paul Lourd seems to appreciate that Lightpath or other vendors can readily provide the connectivity on an important business corridor like Route 7. Such an approach would not require capital investment or the potentially costly technical upkeep of a private campus network. This is very straightforward. Wilton does not seem to even have a defined requirement, yet we have a $2 million proposal. Even if the requirements were properly defined, large corporations with deep pockets and sophisticated data infrastructure needs would not even consider the approach being proposed here.
Sue Donem April 20, 2012 at 01:25 PM
There are some legitimate business reasons beyond simply cost for wanting an alternative to retail bandwidth. That said, I have no idea what the town wants to do with this fiber, and from reading these comments I'm clearly not alone. My point was simply that permitting & trenching is so expensive that I would understand the "conduit-only" approach for now. Installing "hundreds of strands" of fiber is crazy given the advances in WDM technology. That said, there is another option. A few years ago Fibertech (FT) out of Rochester, NY was given a state contract to build what was called the CT Education Network that connected schools and libraries all over the state. FT is also in the business of providing both lit and dark services to businesses. I do not believe (though would need to confirm) that they ever built out Wilton due primarily to the very trenching issues being addressed today. I would approach them and see if some kind of deal can be worked out.....maybe replace current bandwidth with a long term FT agreement at discounted rates....
Christopher DiMattio April 20, 2012 at 01:43 PM
I am not sure there has been any effort to document a need for the bandwidth being proposed, so it is difficult to talk about the appropriate solution. I would maintain that Fibertech (FT) and related options are generally more appropriate for locations underserved with carrier choices. I have not spend the time to research, but expect the Route 7 corridor to not have these characteristics.
Amo Probus April 20, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Wilton needs an IT Steering Committee consisting of volunteer residents with IT savy to help the Town's IT staff develop the appropriate alternatives to specific requirements that have yet to be defined. The Town's IT staff is well intentioned and simply need help from an up-to-date resource group. (I saw the IT mess at Town Hall a few years ago and its much improved in recent years)
MarkC April 23, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Just heard there is a Board of Selectmen public meeting about this tonight at the Library. Everyone should go and bring up these questions.
Amo Probus April 24, 2012 at 11:37 AM
Why spend a couple of million dollars on a technology that will become a bottleneck? Hard wire fiber optic cable has an inherent capacity akin to the size of a water supply pipe. Cloud computing does not have the bottleneck because capacity is more easily increased...we would not have to stuff a 3" fiber optic cable into a 2" conduit.
Sue Donem April 24, 2012 at 12:10 PM
You're talking apples and oranges -- cloud computing capacity refers to the storage and processiong power of computers. You need bandwidth (your "water pipe") to access the cloud. Also, the water pipe analogy doesn't really hold -- WDM technology allows you to transmit mutiple light waves over a single strand of fiber, with each light wave having substanitally more capacity than tradional copper based access technologies (T1s, DS3s, etc.) . Believe me, if you filled a 2 inch conduit with as many fiber strands as you could fit, you would not face a bottleneck issue for many generations. That said, I was unable to attend last night's session at the library. Any reports?
Amo Probus April 24, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Where is the wire for my cellphone?
Sue Donem April 24, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Amo, a) the cell tower that aggregates the data that you and your fellow cell phone customers use is connected to the internet via fiber and b) your cell phone bandwidth is asymetric meaning you get more bandwidth coming in than going out. This wouldn't work for the kind of applications that are being considered.
Amo Probus April 24, 2012 at 11:32 PM
My cable connection to the internet has faster download speeds than upload speeds. (http://speedtest.optimumlightpath.com/) So, which is faster fiber optic cable as proposed or Lightpath from cablevision? I thought someone said fiber optic is 40-50 mps and Lightpath is 90 with a supplemental subscription. What applications are they considering?

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