Top Ten Stories of 2013: No. 8; OPALCO retreats, then revives broadband plan

Orcas Power and Light Cooperative unveiled a proposal in February 2013 to build a hybrid fiber-wireless system that would serve 90 percent of San Juan County.

In June, OPALCO scaled back the plan after only 900 members signed up. It closed the sign-up process and returned deposits to those who pre-subscribed.

Its more conservative plan included delivering better broadband, at lower risk, by sharing its 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,” said OPALCO representatives at the time.

The need for better county-wide communications became even more apparent after a week-long CenturyLink outage (see page one) this fall.

In late November, in front of a packed room at their regularly scheduled meeting in Friday Harbor, the OPALCO Board issued and approved the following motion:

“Our island communities are suffering economic damage and safety issues caused directly by inadequate phone and Internet infrastructure. Therefore, OPALCO shall accelerate expansion of our local member-owned, robust and reliable high-speed data infrastructure to provide Internet, phone and emergency communication services to our members. Deployment will be supported and funded by OPALCO assets, including equity and rates.

This acceleration does not mean that OPALCO will necessarily provide broadband services directly to members. Other co-op members and ISPs such as CenturyLink and RockIsland can take advantage of OPALCO’s infrastructure and accelerated expansion to provide broadband services directly to members.

— Colleen Armstrong


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