The idea of an undersea cable connecting Block Island to the mainland power grid had been kicking around since the early 1980s. The idea was never acted upon, primarily because of prohibitive costs to island taxpayers.
When Block Island was chosen as the site of an offshore wind farm more than 10 years ago, a few Block Islanders understood that this posed the best opportunity in a generation to not only get a cable but also to tap into the latest communications technology: fiber-optic lines could be built into the cable.
These were the first seeds of fast island internet service. The cable has since been installed, and five community institutions have been wired with high-speed internet: the Block Island School, the Police Department, Town Hall, the Island Free Library, and the B.I. Medical Center.
The results were immediate; staff at each of the five institutions reported improved service on the very first day. Block Island is now home to the state of Rhode Island’s first municipally-owned fiber-optic network.
Like just about every component of the Block Island Wind Farm, this project had a steep learning curve — new language and technology had to be learned, contracts had to be developed, infrastructure (poles and wiring) was upgraded.
The work is not done yet. Technology consultants are planning the next phase of the high-speed internet project: connecting every business and home on the entire island to the World Wide Web.
Until then, most island visitors will have to be patient as they continue to use cell phone signals and inferior phone (DSL) lines to connect to the rest of the world.