Fiber network project gets back on track

The townwide fiber network project is back on track, after the committee charged with reviewing and clarifying the plan voted to recommend it to the Board of Selectmen at a meeting last night. Three out of five members of the townwide network committee voted for the recommendation after a meeting and public hearing. Voting yes were: Sandy Dennies, the town's chief financial officer; Jim Saxe, a member of the Board of Selectmen; and Janice Hess of Wilton Library's board of trustees. Laura Schwemm, a member of the Board of Education abstained, along with Al Alper, Board of Finance member.

Mr. Saxe also added the caveat that he wants the project, which would link the library, town and school facilities with an underground fiber network, to cost less than $1 million, over the course of three years.

Ms. Dennies said the project will cost about $1.5 million over three years, which is a reduction in the cost from last year, when it was estimated to cost $1.675 million. This is because the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance approved the authorization of $235,200 from the charter authority to install conduit during the Wolfpit Road sewer project, which took place over the summer.

Mr. Alper, who arrived at the end of the meeting, just before the vote, said his concern was that the Board of Education, which would be affected by the "lion's share of the project," had not formally voted to approve it. However, Ms. Schwemm said the school administration supports the project and the Board of Education, which has expressed favorable reviews in previous meetings, considered it an administrative matter.

Ken Post, director of financial planning and operations for Wilton's school district, and Mat Hepfer, Wilton school district's director of technology, attended the meeting and gave statements endorsing the project.

Mr. Hepfer said "high-speed underground fiber" would provide network redundancy and reliability which would lead to cost savings. "When the network goes out, downtime is astronomically expensive," he said.

Ms. Dennies said the town would also benefit from a fiber network, and cited the support of First Selectman Bill Brennan, who has said it would "allow the town to provide uninterrupted emergency communication services under all conditions 24/7/365, thereby improving public safety."

Jeffrey I. Ziplow of Blum Shapiro, the consulting firm hired by the town to address the need for the project, has said the fiber network project would allow the town to continue to function during emergencies and would also protect Wilton's "critical information assets" during disasters and emergencies. He described such assets as "core or critical pieces of information."

Ms. Dennies said the two recent storms illustrate the need for the project. "An enormous tree fell across the parking lot, and if it had hit one of the town hall buildings, we would not have been able to function. We should thank our lucky stars that the tree fell in the other direction," she said.

Mr. Hepfer said if the technology infrastructure of town hall had been destroyed in this manner, all the computers would have had to be rebuilt — a time-consuming process. With a fiber network, the town would quickly be back online, he said.

"Times have changed," Ms. Dennies said, in an interview with The Bulletin after the meeting. "Every one of our departments relies on technology, and as we have seen, we are very susceptible ... It is our job to provide services to the people of Wilton."

Ms. Dennies said the next step will be for the Board of Selectmen to review the recommendation to move forward with the project, and then decide whether to have a separate town meeting or include it in the general town budget meeting in the spring. The Board of Selectmen has expressed support for the project.