The Lewes Board of Public Works is considering offering fiber-optic high-speed internet service to the residents of Lewes.
Though no costs have been released just yet, General Manager Darrin Gordon said he believes the BPW can implement a system that provides faster speeds at a lower price than other internet service providers. After logistics are worked out with consultant Broad Valley Micro Fiber Networks, Gordon said potential monthly costs will be distributed in a survey to all BPW customers within the city limits of Lewes to gauge interest.
"I want to make sure we can provide exceptional [internet] and not skimp on the quality," he said. "I hope to have the same reliability we enjoy with our electric system."
Adding their own internet service is possible through a recent initiative to bring high-speed fiber-optic internet to Sussex County. In May 2015, the state announced a $1 million grant to Fibertech Networks to extend its network to Georgetown with two branches to Lewes and to Seaford. The Lewes branch ends at the BPW's well fields on Savannah Road.
Gordon says the BPW can tap into that network and extend the line throughout Lewes.
Gordon envisions the project being completed in four phases. The first would take the network down Savannah Road and through the business district. Phase 2 would cover adjacent areas such as Bay Breeze, Jefferson Apartments, Savannah Place and extend down Pilottown Road to the DNREC building at the public boat ramp.
"The rolling deployment will help recover costs and help with funding the next phases," Gordon said.
The first phase could be completed within four to five months, he said, with the second phase another two months later. Overhead wires make the first two phases the logical choices, Gordon said, as underground wires in other areas of town will require more work.
Phase 3 would take the fiber to the beach side of town, extending east to Cape Henlopen State Park and west to Lewes Yacht Club. The fourth and final phase would fill in the remaining areas of town, such as Pilottown Village and other New Road communities.
"We want to take it slow to ensure that whoever does take the service that it's the very best and everything we promised it was going to be," Gordon said. "We know that word of mouth around here can be the saving grace or the death knell."
BPW officials have been discussing providing internet service to residents for some time. One iteration would've offered internet via Wi-Fi town wide. Officials also considered offering both high-speed internet and television services, but, Gordon said, he believes the television landscape is changing.
"I believe the next phase of television and communications is receiving those services over your internet," he said.
With the increased popularity of services like Amazon Fire TV Stick, AppleTV, Roku, SlingTV and others, he said, television will likely be streamed in the near future. If the BPW were to move forward, Director Robert Kennedy said many customers will need to be educated.
"There are some in our community that are going to need some handholding as to how you transition away from cable and to this new [option]," he said.
Gordon agreed, saying the plan is to have staff available either through the BPW or Broad Valley to come to a customer's home to answer questions and demonstrate the equipment.
Gordon said he hopes to have final numbers back from Broad Valley within the next month and provide a report to BPW officials at their June or July meeting. He said he wants to offer the service to the residents of Lewes, but if the numbers don't work out, he will not move forward.