Dan Gallagher is set to retire by the end of the year. And by then, if all goes according to plan, he will have saved Cape Cod from itself. As the volunteer CEO of the nonprofit OpenCape Corporation, Gallagher is months away from completing the installation of a fiber optic network that will run through every town on the Cape, enabling municipalities to communicate better and share resources, and businesses that rely on broadband Internet to relocate to the Cape.
At first glance, OpenCape’s purpose may seem straightforward: to provide a reliable Internet and phone service to network to a region suffering from a lackluster communications network. But Gallagher, the former information technology director at Cape Cod Community College, only sees these achievements as means to a broader end.
Indeed, better Internet service could usher in a broader transformation on the Cape, where fears of attracting an even bigger crush of tourists in the summer often hamper efforts to upgrade a creaking infrastructure for year-round residents’ benefit. For all its proximity to high-tech Boston, the Cape has transportation, water, and telecommunications networks that are desperately in need of updates; education and healthcare systems that need tweaking; and a whiplash-inducing seasonal economy that needs to diversify beyond tourism to thrive.
Gallagher’s vision for what better Internet service could mean for Cape Cod was clear at a conference co-sponsored by OpenCape last spring. There, 500 participants spent two days brainstorming the different ways OpenCape’s network could spur development on the Cape. At the end of the conference, the ideas were folded into an “evolving document” outlining a vision for Cape Cod in 2025 that includes “smarter” use of the environment, “smarter” development, “smarter” education, “smarter” health care, “smarter” transportation, and “smarter” government. Of course, each “smarter” starts with technology enabled by OpenCape’s new network.
Most of the participants — representatives from town governments, members of various chambers of commerce — left the conference convinced of the transformative power of broadband. But not all. One veteran Cape Cod resident stopped me on my way out the door. “What do you think of all this?” he asked. I shrugged and returned the question.
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