OPALCO plots change in course for better broadband

A change of course in OPALCO
A change of course in OPALCO's broadband initiative will be unveiled at a series of public meetings, beginning Wednesday, June 12, on San Juan Island
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Editor's note: The following is submitted by Orcas Power and Light Cooperative

OPALCO has a vision for broadband in San Juan County: true high-speed internet service for all islanders.

The plan that was proposed in February 2013 – to build a hybrid fiber-wireless system to serve 90 percent of San Juan County – has been challenging, particularly in terms of financial risk and member subscriptions required.

Given the number of sign-ups to date — 900 — and feedback from our members, it is unlikely that the proposal would gain enough support to mitigate the financial risk. OPALCO has closed the sign-up process and is returning deposits to those who pre-subscribed. We have a new direction that will put us on the path to realizing our vision.

As a member-owned co-op, our primary responsibility is to our members. We have heard your concerns and are responding with a more conservative plan that will move us toward our vision for broadband while protecting Co-op resources – and while continuing to advocate for our members. OPALCO now sees an opportunity to encourage the delivery of better broadband, at lower risk, by advancing a plan to share OPALCO’s infrastructure with all of the other internet service providers.

This infrastructure provider concept means that we will offer access to our data networking infrastructure through leasing agreements.

OPALCO has been operating this network since 2001. Initially, we plan to provide fiber-optic connections to CenturyLink to improve its DSL system. We are also evaluating how to make best use of wireless components that are part of the backbone of OPALCO’s data network.

This approach will support improved service to many parts of the county, though in a more incremental way than the original plan. OPALCO will continue to build out our data network to serve the needs of our electrical distribution system and to create a stronger foundation for meeting the co-op’s future needs.

OPALCO leaders will be discussing the new direction and seeking our members’ input on a collaborative approach at public forums scheduled over the next two weeks. These events will offer an open house format, 5-6 p.m., with informational booths and small group discussions, followed by a Q & A session facilitated by OPALCO management and staff. The meetings are as follows.

Wednesday, June 12 – The Grange, Friday Harbor

Thursday, June 13 – Shaw Community Center

Monday, June 17 – Roche Harbor Pavilion

Tuesday, June 18 – Woodmen Hall, Lopez Island

Wednesday, June 19 – Orcas Senior Center

OPALCO is grateful to the 900 visionary co-op members who pre-subscribed to the grand plan. We will be refunding those broadband deposits (and PAL contributions) as bill credits in the next billing cycles. We appreciate all of our members who have participated in this long process of finding the right broadband solution for San Juan County. Please join us at the upcoming public forums and help us shape our vision.


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