Five ways OpenCape will make a difference

OpenCape is coming.

In the past five years, the new Capewide broadband system has gone from a conceptual proposal to a $40-million project in the early stages of construction.

But when the 350 miles of fiber optic cable are laid and communications are flying between wireless relay stations, what will that mean for Cape Cod? What will we have after OpenCape that wasn’t possible before?

To answer these questions, we’ve rounded up five projects that plan to take advantage of the new system to improve the environment, the economy and public safety in the region.

1. 700 Mhz Public Safety Communications System: The 700 Mhz broadcast spectrum used to be occupied by televisions channels that have since switched to digital transmissions. The band is now designated for use by public safety departments.

On Cape Cod, the creation of a 700 Mhz system will occur in concert with the construction of OpenCape, explained Sean O’Brien, emergency preparedness coordinator for Barnstable County. Once the system is installed, public safety responders on the Cape will be able to transmit more information at quicker speeds, he said.

That could allow ambulances to send more patient data to hospitals, better preparing the emergency room to receive the patient, O’Brien said. Firefighters could have streaming video of an incident available in their vehicles, so they would be able to spend less time assessing the situation upon arrival.

“It really expands the different types of services that they may have available to them,” O’Brien said.

2. Sandwich Economic Initiative Corp.: The goal of the SEIC is to encourage sustainable development in Sandwich, board member John Kennan said. And OpenCape can help, he said.

“Enhanced broadband, is going to allow us to attract businesses that would not otherwise come to Sandwich — or the Cape, for that matter,” he said.

The Sandwich Industrial Park and the South Sandwich village center (formerly referred to as the Golden Triangle) are particular targets for growth, he said.

Sandwich could also be a likely location for “co-offices,” which allow current commuters to work remotely from a well-equipped office space, said Dan Gallagher, chief executive of OpenCape Corp., the nonprofit organization managing the construction of the new network.

“Over 15,000 people cross the bridges every day to commute to work off-Cape,” he said. “It makes no sense for a company to pay $200 per square foot to lease office space in Boston for an employee to commute 30, 40, 50 or even 60 miles on congested roads to go to a cubicle and work on a computer.”

3. Electronic permitting: Efforts are underway at the town and county levels to use OpenCape’s increased bandwidth in order to move the process of permitting building projects online.

“We’re trying to get the region together on that,” Cape Cod Commission executive director Paul Niedzwiecki said. “There’s a whole host of things where that electronic permitting would be extraordinarily helpful.”

Though the details are still to be worked out, an online permitting system could allow contractors to enter the details of their proposed projects and print out all the forms they would need.

“Ultimately, you could permit certain things and not even have to go to town hall,” Niedzwiecki said.

An online system could also allow developers to see more precisely what reviews and approvals a project would require, he said. And better understanding of regulations could make for better projects, he said.

“It would give a more realistic estimate of what that regulation would be,” he said. “Sometimes people artificially constrain projects to avoid review, and sometimes they end up not building as much square footage as they need to be successful.”

4. Center for Innovative Water Technologies: Announced in May, the CIWT is to be a Woods Hole research center focused on developing solutions to water quality issues and bringing these new technologies to market. Plans include a “living laboratory,” a collection of occupied cottages where researchers can collect and transmit data about how technologies work in real-life scenarios.

“All of that is going to require wireless transmissions and broadband access,” Executive Director Robert Curtis said.

Without improved bandwidth that OpenCape will offer, “it would be more difficult, it wouldn’t be as efficient,” he said. “Or that we wouldn’t be able to do all of things we want to do.”

5. Lower Cape Community Access Television: LCCAT manages and operates public access television on the Lower Cape.

The organization works with individuals and businesses who produce their own programming and must get it to the broadcast studio, board member Dave Schropfer explained.

Right now, these producers must send or deliver programming on disks, “which was the state of the art compared to where we were, but not to where we’re going to be,” Schropfer said.

OpenCape will enable the studio, along with area residents and businesses, to hook up to a faster, fiber optic system, he said.

“They will be able to get these programs to us much more easily and in a better quality,” he said. “To me, that’s the whole core of the thing.”

This story was published in the Cape Cod Times on August 9, 2011. Read the story at CapeCodOnline.com.

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