Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown)


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Broadband is the 21st century highway of our information economy.

Broadband is wide-bandwidth data transmission and refers to high-speed Internet access. Today, we see broadband as a utility — much like electricity and water — needed for schools, libraries, government and business to effectively operate.

Downloading a movie from Netflix requires a different amount of data transmission than, say, accessing a video conference at your office. But whether it’s at home, in the office, or in the classroom, we want broadband access to be reliable, fast and affordable.

Business especially needs broadband to effectively compete. The defense industry on Aquidneck Island is an important economic sector. Many of the defense contractors in Middletown need high-speed Internet access that is secure and reliable.

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As chair of the Legislative Commission to Study Broadband Services and Accessibility, I discovered two important facts. First, the lack of broadband regulation in Rhode Island means the state and communities have no regulatory authority to require network build-outs from Cox, Verizon or any other providers. As a result, Newport County is the only county in Rhode Island with only one cable provider, Cox.

The business plans at Cox and Verizon do NOT call for increased expenses by expanding broadband, but rather to harvest more revenues from the existing infrastructure. So how do we engender competition to bring down rates and increase services? How do we provide high-speed access to residents and businesses in Middletown so that we can grow the local economy?

Second, I learned that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation has many strands of fiber optic running throughout Aquidneck Island that are not being used. To me, that seemed a perfect solution to increase broadband capacity for Middletown.

So over the past year, I met with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, DOT, along with Middletown’s Chief Information Officer Matt Wainright and Town Administrator Shawn Brown to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Middletown to access the dark (unused) fiber already installed in DOT’s transportation corridors on Aquidneck Island.

Signed in June 2017, this is the first agreement in the country in which a transportation agency is allowing a municipality access to its fiber optics.

RIDOT has agreed to allow the town to use 12 strands of dark fiber extending Middletown’s existing fiber optic network to increase capacity for residents and businesses. Thank you to the Town Council and Mr. Brown for moving this MOU into place so quickly and recognizing the importance of enhanced fiber optic capacity for Middletown.

Stay tuned in 2018 as we advance high-speed Internet service. But more importantly, here’s to keeping that engineering company or other small business from leaving because Middletown has found an innovative way to expand broadband service. Broadband is very much a part of our 21st century lives. In the end, it’s about making broadband access fast, affordable and secure.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, chairperson of House Committee on Small Business, represents Middletown and Jamestown in District 74. She can be reached at rep-ruggiero@rilegislature.gov or 423-0444.

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