OPALCO strikes deal with Vulcan, expands wireless capacity

Orcas Power & Light Cooperative has purchased a "partitioned portion" of the Vulcan Wireless 700 MHz Federal Communications Commission license as an addition to its grid control network.

The purchase, reportedly a $3 million investment, includes an agreement by which Vulcan Wireless will learn from the Cooperative's deployment for the benefit of other rural communities.

The 700 MHz license, the same used for decades to deliver television programming, will increase OPALCO’s ability to keep in communication with its crews in the field, connect and monitor remote equipment and improve emergency communication for public safety first responders, according to a June 13 Co-op press release about the purchase.

In addition, OPALCO can use the licensed-frequency to help improve telecommunications capability in the county, allowing access its high-speed wireless network by homes and businesses.

“This collaboration agreement was facilitated by the FCC with their adoption of the 700 MHz inter-operability order, finalized earlier this year," said Steve Hall, managing director of Vulcan Capital, owner of Vulcan Wireless. "We are looking forward to learning from this effort and finding new and innovation ways to bring high-speed wireless services to rural areas.”

Vulcan Capital was founded by Paul Allen, former co-founder and chief technologist of Microsoft, and Lopez Island property owner.

According to OPALCO, the co-op is designing an expansion of its grid-control network (also called the backbone or middle mile) to satisfy its automated, electrical distribution system needs. With the frequency acquisition, the plan will include 17 pole locations countywide for crew communication and emergency public safety communication.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with our public safety community and Vulcan Wireless in crafting this collaboration,” said OPALCO Assistant General Manger Foster Hildreth. “This is an excellent first step to solving this critical community problem and addressing key quality of life issues in San Juan County.”

Once requirements of public safety, field communications and grid management are met, OPALCO intends to integrate wireless options into its Island Network broadband business plan. Broadband connections are expected to be provided at a "cost-of-service" for delivery, according to the co-op.


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