“Cape Cod Community College Reaches for the Clouds with Comcast…” – so said the headline on DailyMarkets.com on March 28th.
Across the Cape, heads turned as word leaked out that CCCC had signed a three-year contract for fiber optic Internet service with Comcast.
No Cape Cod institution was more instrumental than the Cape Cod Community College in the genesis of OpenCape – the fiber optic broadband network that is being built in southeastern Massachusetts with government funds. Indeed, former CCCC President Kathleen Schatzberg and retired IT director Dan Gallagher were prime movers in advancing OpenCape. Gallagher subsequently retired from the college to lead OpenCape until his departure last fall.
Given the College’s lead role in OpenCape’s development, many view with surprise that CCCC ended up contracting with Comcast.
Over the past ten days we have interviewed CCCC President John Cox about the circumstances leading to the Comcast contract and also for details about the contract itself. President Cox answered a broad range of questions, so we will let his words tell the story through our email Q&A with him.
Cape Cod Today: How did the College come to select Comcast as its high-speed broadband provider?
Dr. Cox: As you know, competition in broadband has been an issue around the country. As a telecommunication utility with often substantial costs of providing infrastructure, the barriers to entry for competitors have been a challenge. CCCC reached out to the market for a business-class dedicated internet service of 500 Mbps with 24/7 monitoring and technical support and history of reliable service.
A survey of the market revealed the limitations in terms of infrastructure readily available, not to mention a record of service. In order to remain competitive, CCCC needs broadband capacity to ensure implementation of further technical improvements to enhance our students’ education.
In reaching out to local ISPs, including our existing provider through Verizon, Comcast, and CapeNet, Comcast was the only provider with the ability to meet the College’s needs. A sole-source procurement was undertaken, given the single source of this technology. The negotiations ended with the attached contract. As a part of the contract, we locked in a 60 month pricing level for a 36 month term. Frankly, the hope is that in three years the market will be very competitive and our service costs will decline further.
Cape Cod Today: When you shared the contract with us we were a little surprised to see that the contracts were executed in July 2012. Why was this just publicized in the last few weeks?
Dr. Cox: The fiber installation was completed in September and fully activated in November after the engineering was completed with the College’s firewalls, switches, and routers. Regarding the delay in publicity, the College was not willing to comment on the connection, including statements to Comcast itself, until we had actively used it for a couple of months.
Cape Cod Today: Did CapeNet/OpenCape make a proposal to the College? If so, what kind of pricing and service guarantees did they provide?
Dr. Cox: CapeNet, the internet service provider for OpenCape provided a pre-construction quote. However, the network was not complete, there was no history of service, and availability did not meet our timeline, so the College had to pursue other options. In the near future, I am hopeful that CapeNet will be fully operational and competitive, reducing our future costs and increasing our capabilities. As we depend increasingly more upon the internet and “the cloud” for services, there will be even more demand by the College community for fast, reliable, competitively-priced broadband.
Cape Cod Today: Did you play a significant role in this decision or was it pretty much in play when you arrived?
Dr. Cox: The planning for this improvement in our broadband has been underway for more than a year. Our dedicated IT staff has been well engaged in this process from the beginning. After examining the College’s needs and our available options, it was evident that we needed to move ahead. July was a busy month!
Driven by Competition
President Cox stressed several times in our conversation the College’s need to be competitive. This need has never been stronger, with a satellite campus of Bridgewater State University likely to appear at the soon-to-be-closed MacArthur Elementary School in South Yarmouth along with the need to compete with on-line higher education programs.
In studying the Comcast agreement, which Dr. Cox released to Cape Cod Today as a public record, the “techies” amongst us were most impressed by the service commitment made by Comcast. Schedule A-2 of the contract includes a Service Level Agreement where Comcast spells out credits for service interruptions and its response/restoration standards.
For example, Comcast guarantees a credit of 5% of the monthly recurring charge (MRC) if on-net services are interrupted for as little as four minutes but less than four hours. At least 24 hours or greater of on-net services interruption results in a credit of 50% of the total MRC. The college’s monthly recurring charge is $4,500.
Comcast also states a mean time “to respond telephonically to call” of 15 minutes over the course of a month. The promise a mean time to restore on-net Comcast equipment of four hours. The longest response standard is a mean of 9 hours to restore off-net services. Comcast also guarantees 24-7-365 network monitoring and tech support.
With its implementation at Cape Cod Community College, Comcast has set the bar high in what promises to be a competitive local broadband market. While OpenCape tries to cross the finish line to build its network, Comcast Business is apparently already providing fiber optic service to those who need it. It will be interesting to see how OpenCape’s service guarantees compare with what Comcast pledged to the College.
OpenCape is not "free"
Many Cape Codders believed – incorrectly – that OpenCape service would be “free” to the towns once it came on line. The fact is that the construction of the network is government funded but towns, schools and others will pay to receive services through CapeNet, OpenCape’s service provider.
With Cape Cod Community College - one of OpenCape’s prime movers – already online with Comcast, OpenCape/CapeNet may face a more challenging road than anticipated.
No doubt municipalities, schools, science institutes and health care groups will put high speed broadband proposals out to bid even when OpenCape is finally operational.
Read the Master Service Agreement between Comcast and Cape Cod Community College here.