CenturyLink: Fiber cable repaired, communications restored

Ten days after an underwater fiber-optic cable between Lopez Island and San Juan Island was severed, telecommunications and internet services in the San Juan Islands were restored before noon on Friday, Nov. 15, according to CenturyLink

At noon Friday, Nov. 15, CenturyLink Northwest Region President Brian Stading informed the Journal, "Our fiber has been repaired and is now fully operational as of this morning. We are making arrangements to install microwave radios for diversity purposes even after the fiber is restored."

Stading also said in an e-mail to the Journal, “We fully appreciate the impact this has had on customers. The company is evaluating service credit policies."

Stading pointed out the day before that “some customers may have service level agreements as part of their business contracts.”  But, Stading concluded, "We won't be responding to speculation, rumors or extortion."

Stading and many of the two-dozen company employees and three dozen contractors who have been in the islands for up to nine days will depart knowing that communications over the holidays have been restored, and that business communications during the busy holiday shopping season and beyond should be unimpaired.

"They're the best in the world," said Stading of the engineers, technicians, divers and marine specialists who succeeded in restoring 911 emergency service and other voice and internet linkages to the 621 square miles and 15,800 people of San Juan County.

The recent communication outage is not a first-ever occurrence. Fourteen years ago, the previous fiber-optic cable broke, disrupting telephone and internet communications then as well.

Although 911 service was restored within three hours, then-county commissioner John Evans, quoted in the Nov. 3, 1999, issue of the Journal, said at that time, "This is a real wake-up call. We need a back-up system. The large issue is 911. We need to be able to respond quickly. We need to look at improving the microwave link."

Fourteen years later, County Councilman Rick Hughes offered almost identical views, but prefaced those views with both praise for CenturyLink's actions and criticism for its public communications.

"From these problems can come a long-term solution that helps everyone," Hughes said.

The other two councilmen, Chairman Jamie Stephens and Bob Jarman, expressed similar views. Jarman reported that during a Friday morning conference call when the fix was announced, San Juan Island Fire Chief Steve Marler spoke for everyone when he told CenturyLink's representative that they needed to do a better job keeping the public informed if similar circumstances arose in the future.

Stevens said the council and the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission would receive a full report in the coming weeks. Informed that the chairman of the UTC said they would hold a full-scale hearing on the outage, Stevens said, "If the UTC holds a hearing on the problems that occurred here, that hearing should be in San Juan County."

UTC Chairman David Danner would not confirm that the UTC commission would come to Friday Harbor for a hearing, but said "it might be a good idea."

Danner was emphatic that CenturyLink's response to the emergency was "exemplary" and that CenturyLink had been in close contact with the commission at all stages.

"Both the company and the commission have done everything possible to expedite fixing the problems," said Danner, who also noted redundancy and backup services must be provided, especially to assure that emergency telecommunications services were maintained.

As business and civic life returned to normal, the attention of community leaders turned to the future.

Chris Thomerson, president of Orcas Power and Light Cooperative board of directors, said at a Nov. 13 Economic Development Summit that the outage showed how important broadband communications is to the economic well-being of the area. "The community now needs to stand up and say "we need it," Thomersan said.

"We have to have local control, and the cooperative model is one way to get there," he added.

Another OPALCO board member, Vince Dauciunas, said the outage shows "we need multi-path redundancy and we are prepared to work with CenturyLink and other providers to provide it. For broadband, we need two things: will and finances. The problems incentivizes me to move forward with a practical plan to extend broadband to the entire county."

Mike Greene, president of Rock Island Technology Solutions, whose wireless "Canopy" internet service kept Islanders' Bank and other businesses fully operational throughout the shutdown, also said the discussion must move in the direction of local control of telephone and internet communications.

"That means that companies like CenturyLink need to open up their networks to competitive companies like mine," Greene said.

Brent Snow, General Manager of Roche Harbor Resort, who was actively involved trying to get the resort back online after the outage, also gave a nod to the competitive local companies.

"We're evaluating the effect the outage had on our business and we're looking at alternative providers of communications services," he said.

Mark Anderson of San Juan Island, a technology and international business consultant, summed up the prevailing mood for many at the Summit, sponsored by the San Juan Economic Development Council: "If I owned a business, I couldn't possibly decide to put it in San Juan County because of the lack of telecom infrastructure. Broadband is the economic enabler for every single business in the county. We must find a way to make it happen."



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