OpenCape network explained

In its third year of existence, the OpenCape network is still relatively little known and less than fully understood by most Cape Codders.

CapeSpace, a shared workplace center set to open in June, is the first commercial entity in the town of Barnstable to hook up to the network, but OpenCape has several other commercial customers. It also serves municipalities across Cape Cod, according to Judy Sterling, vice president of marketing for CapeNet, the firm hired by OpenCape to build the actual network.

Sterling noted that while CapeNet is a for-profit firm, OpenCape is a nonprofit, making it a very different model in the realm of fiber optic networks.

“The network itself is a community asset. It is owned by OpenCape on behalf of the entire region. That’s a game-changer,” she said, because most networks are owned by corporations like Comcast or Verizon.

It’s not financially viable for corporations to build high-speed communications networks in areas like Cape Cod that lack the population and commercial density of urban centers, Sterling said. OpenCape was able to get $40 million in federal, state and county grants to create a 350-mile fiber optic network.

“This is one of more than 100 networks across the country” built with federal grant monies because they are in areas considered underserved, she said.

First to be connected, as part of the grant requirements, were municipalities, libraries and schools. She said, noting that all Cape towns are now connected, along with Cape Cod Community College, nearly all Cape high schools, a number of middle schools and elementary schools and 27 libraries.

“We’re providing a tremendous service,” said Steve Johnston, who joined Open Cape as executive director last August. He said the network has also hooked up 59 cell towers in the area, “So that will be improving cell phone service on the Cape.”

Among OpenCape’s biggest clients is the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which just doubled its bandwidth. “WHOI has worked for 10 years to get this kind of bandwidth,” Sterling said, explaining the scientific research institute has had to compete with national and international organizations that have traditionally had greater network capacity. Now that playing field has been leveled, Sterling said, meaning WHOI can continue to grow and provide employment.

Another big employer that has benefitted from OpenCape is Joint Base Cape Cod, which was among the first to be hooked up. “They provide a lot of domestic security, and they wouldn’t be able to do that without this network,” she said, adding, “They provide a lot of jobs."

By Debi Boucher Stetson