N.J. firm pitches better Wi-Fi to borough

Former Bridgeport mayor and Civitas adviser Bill Finch gives a presentation to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses on April 5 along side Civitas Chief Executive Officer Jerry Kirshman. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

NAUGATUCK — A New Jersey based-network company is proposing to install a broadband system to provide better connections to all residents and turn the borough into a “smart city.”

Civitas Networks, a private networks company that designs, finances, and operates wireless networks, has proposed a public-private partnership with the borough to provide broadband using 5G technology and ultimately save residents costs for internet.

The company would operate and maintain the network but it would be the borough’s broadband system.

“There are a lot of very, very positive aspects to this,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said at the April 5 borough board meeting. “It’s almost like a tax cut to people in some ways but it’s a very interesting project.”

The cost of the project is about $11 million which would be split in half between the borough and the company. The development is contingent on the borough receiving funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that designates $64 billion for broadband nationwide.

If the borough received federal funding, that final cost would be divided between the borough and residents according to Hess.

The network project would operate through about 145 Civitas Smart Poles that would contain a 5G radio, video camera, air sensors, emergency button and an EV charging point inside the pole and be spread out through the borough.

Civitas Chief Executive Officer Jerry Kirshman said the cost would be about $70 monthly for residents to sign up for the broadband system which includes an installation of a box in a person’s home.

N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess. Archive

“It could be something that’s at a cost that’s reasonable and since it’s a partnership with the municipality, then the rates can be set by the city so that everybody can get something that’s fair for them as long as the costs are covered,” Kirshman said.

The broadband system can be up and running within a year from the start of development according to Kirshman.

“You decide what getting on the internet is cost people in your town,” Former Bridgeport mayor and Civitas adviser Bill Finch said. “You decide it depending on how fast you want to pay off the system or how much you want to invest in the system.”

Finch said data is a utility now that will be very valuable.

“It’s going to really be the new oil, the new water,” Finch said. “The towns are either going to control or being controlled by the big players and pay the piper.”

Finch said this development would be great to close the digital divide.

“We’re learning as we go in a way too because this is a broadband municipally owned, it’s a relatively new concept,” Finch said. “It is in some places around the country.”

Kirshman said one of the challenges is that 5G technology requires many more connection points, sometimes 10 or 15 times as much as 4G due to 5G having short range connections.

He said the reason why the company is choosing 5G technology over 4G is because it’s cheaper to deliver and they can mix and match components in the future. 5G is also good for sensor technology, he added.

“Let’s say that we want to monitor water quality, air quality, we want to put in security devices, we want to measure traffic flow, all that can be done with 5G technology because 5G is designed for what’s called machine to machine communications,” Kirshman said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been awakening for many people to have a great connection.

“The data requirements in a community have gone up significantly for a lot of reasons. So this is something that we bring to the table,” Kirshman said “By having an equitable broadband throughout the community, then every student gets the opportunity to learn, every worker can work from home in a safe and secure way.”

Burgess George Mudry asked if people’s personal data would be collected.

“The data collection is only in public spaces like measuring air temperature or water or things like that,” Kirshman said. “Nobody collects personal data.”

Hess said borough officials would form a several-member due diligence committee including burgesses and the Information Technology Director Jim Kallipolites to put together questions, thoughts and concerns and then meet with company officials.