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Wilton's Fiber Optic Plan a 'Folly,' Says Reader

A reader writes in to express his dissenting opinion on Wilton's plan to fiber-optically connect several main public areas of town.

 

I expect I am the somewhat average, long-term complacent member of our charming community.  

Unfortunately the proposal by our Board of Selectmen to recommend an investment of $1.6 million for a of very questionable benefit has figuratively knocked me off my chair of complacency. (Feel free to consult the Town of Wilton website with regard to the “Shared Data Fiber Optic Network” bonded capital project proposal.)

I have more than a casual understanding of such technology matters and would express grave concern with the potential folly of this project proposal. The vapid two page presentation document on the town website does not offer any real rationale or allay any technical, operational or financial concerns with regard to this significant 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.     

While I understand this recommendation was part of a commissioned infrastructure study, the ‘experts’ involved appear to have been selling a project rather than evaluating a solution. I appreciate it is a difficult assessment for our town leaders due to limited exposure to the technical subject matter and natural reliance on professional recommendations.

I expressed early concern with the approach and contacted our elected leadership in February with an offer to use personal and business contacts to provide an informal but impartial review of this project by some true industry subject matter experts.  It is my belief and opinion that these professionals hold greater expertise than those with whom the town of Wilton had contracted with for a recommendation.  

While I was provided a very polite response, there was no effort taken to share information of an expert evaluation to achieve the best outcome for our community.   

$1.6 million might not seem significant in a wealthy town like ours, but I would strongly urge every resident to question this particular project. There is no desperate need, no immediate urgency and further study is appropriate.

In a time of economic hardship for so many, Wilton does not need this fiber optic folly.

 

Christopher DiMattio

Amo Probus April 13, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Thank you Chris for your thoughtful letter: I, and many others fully agree. "The project is a solution in search of a problem" "alternative robust solutions are available at a lower cost. " They cannot quantify the benefits no matter how well intentioned they may be. I think this is an "optic envy" proposal. Town Hall wakes up and sees other nearby towns that have it and they want it too. Other towns however, adopted the fiber optic strategy before alternatives (and much less expensive ones) developed in recent years. Town Hall has the habit of rejecting help from many experienced residents (the insurance study a few years ago for example). They need a volunteer IT Steering Committee to help guide the town (We have a Water Commission, a Parks Commission, a Wetlands Commission that do not require comparable expertise) so an IT Commission should be formed before we go down this unnecessary path.
Kenneth J. Dartley April 14, 2012 at 11:42 AM
After two attempts to justify the spending of $ 1,600,000 of taxpayer money on the project there is still no clear explanation of the benefits or the possible return on investment. What is the cost of upkeep? We have so many other things that this money can be used for--Like lowering Taxes for many seniors who are struggling to stay in their homes.. The BoS should vote to remove this project from the bonding proposals or justify it in real terms.
Connecticut15 April 14, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Without the following details showing due diligence, the BOS must withdraw this bonding project. Where are the details of this project, what is online on the town website hardly qualifies, in fact a 2nd grader could have provided that generalized two page document - Where is the total detailed accounting of the costs to implement AND the details of the total cost of upkeep over the term of the bond AND JUST AS IMPORTANT what are the sources for those projected costs...Where is an accurate or industry standard cost benefit analysis/analyses?
Paul Lourd April 18, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I raised my concerns (similar to yours) at the BOF meeting last night. Two other citizens also felt the project was not "ready for prime time". Several citizens spoke in support of the project, but like the sponsors, were not technically aware of the significant future costs involved, and were just infatuated with all the cool things this could do. There was a guest speaker from New Canaan who described many of the nice things it does there, but was vague on the costs. However, he did say the candy machine at the high school is now IP based, so they can more effectively refill it. OK, I am being hard on the fellow, he actually was very sharp, but was an IT guy, not a finance guy, and could not answers our BOF's questions about total cost or ROI. The most fascinating comment was from a town employee, after being repeatedly asked about ROI. "We are not a business, we don't have to make money". And we wonder how government spending gets bloated? Even more fascinating was that a member of the Library IT staff admitted he has already purchased fiber capable routers in anticipation of this project being approved. He back pedaled REALLY well, and quickly said they were not gathering dust but were being "used" now. I wonder how much extra capacity has been bought around town with my money in anticipation of this project being approved. I have the 105 page consultants report detailing the costs and design. You should get a copy.
Paul Lourd April 18, 2012 at 12:49 PM
FYI, the BOF did not vote to support the project. It was clear they felt the same way many of us do, and voted "Without more information, the board can not support the project".
Steve Symonds April 19, 2012 at 02:13 PM
I do telecom network consulting for companies in the U.S., and around the world...fiber, satellite, cable, and hybrids. These networks can generate some really impressive Return on Investment for both private companies and public institutions (including local/town government)...and in my experience that's the reason they are funded in the first place (regardless of whether the money is private or public). A report that deals with costs and design establishes the operational baseline for such an undertaking...capital costs, operating costs, and network service capabilities. This would in turn provide essential data for the decision-makers to evaluate the cost-benefits of proceeding to build the network. It's the same exercise whether you are a corporate exec of a public official. So what we need to see is this cost-benefit evaluation...or whatever the Town officials are calling the decision analysis document that justified the decision to proceed. Let's put the whining and fuming on hold until we see that...better to light one candle than curse the darkness!
Mel Norris April 23, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Let's see.... an emergency computer network? I think the town has been watching the sci fi channel too much. Police, fire, and EMS all have radios, which do not require this level of technology. This is not NORAD; its Wilton! A 20 yr payback is ridiculously long; the average commerical use estimation should be based on 7 yrs max. As an alternative, why not lay in empty conduit now; with a drag line for future use? This is a ridiculous tech toy; why not build a monorail instead? A generator for the library as a shelter - another ridiculous waste of resources for a building that is all glass with a flat (weak) roof, sitting at almost river level. Why more bandwith and speed -- for what ?? It will be obsolete in less than 10 years. And at $4000 dollars per person, plus interest, the savings are no where near the cost of the system, not even at a fraction of the cost. Ridiculous.
dp April 25, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Paul, I am the member of the Library IT Staff you commented about. Let me correct you: 1. I never said I purchased fiber capable routers, rather I purchased Fiber capable switches. It would be nice to be accurate. 2. If you heard my comments clearly, i mentioned this equipment is what is commonly available and because of the day and age we live in this equipment doesn't cost extra. It is standard equipment at this point in time. 3. You are welcome to come by and look at the type of purchasing i make, I have nothing to hide and have worked very hard to save money. I would challenge anyone to find better pricing on the equipment I purchase. I also feel confident in what I purchase is necessity and not luxury. 4. These switches were purchased out of necessity but can easily be repurposed for this project and I absolutely wanted to have equipment in place to be ready to take advantage of this opportunity day one. Especially with requiring additional equipment cost. 5. I have implemented a backup solution out of necessity that can easily be integrated into this fiber project. Again it was not purchased for the project but if it is used within this project it provides a second layer of security that I do not have now. I also remember my point about operating within our current budget to take advantage of this network as being appreciated by the BOF. I can't argue with your decision to not support this project, however I will take offense to your accusations.
Eustace Tilley April 25, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Yesterday, Newtown's voters DEFEATED their proposed BUDGET. Vote NO TOO HIGH ----- why? I have 16 reasons to vote NO TOO HIGH a. It's too high b. the Town withholds info on actual expenditures by line item - we don't know where the money goes! c. the BOS has an extra $650,000 previously used for paving d. the BOS budget is up over 3% not the 1.75% on an apples to apples basis e. the BOE spent $6 million LESS than budget last year and will hire only 2 teachers f. we were overtaxed last year; the proposed budget does not fix recover it g. Median household income is up 22% (since 2000) h. Inflation is up 26% (since 2000) i. Town budget is up more than 100% (since 2000) j. No material change in town or school services since 2000 k. Property values in town continue to fall due in part to higher taxes than neighbors l. Savings from teacher union contract are being wasted m. Budget increase goes to benefits not services n. 500 Wilton residents live below the national poverty line o. 40 homes are in foreclosure p. corporate and small businesses continue to lay off tell your neighbors, drive the elderly to the polls
Scott May 10, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Is there an online copy of the 105 page report ?

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