By Dan Drath
Here in the islands, we have a wonderful electric utility co-operative that has served our needs for a long time. At the moment the co-operative members are being asked to expand our co-operative into the area of telecommunications.
Through several means and over time, we have been told of the progress OPALCO is making toward achieving their broadband proposal. According to a recent article in the San Juan Journal ("OPALCO awaits consumer buyin", Jan. 30 pg. 1), OPALCO members will soon be asked to vote the proposal, up or down.
Absent from the news and reports are many details. In the interest of gaining a fuller understanding, I ask the following questions:
—In what other communities, similar to ours, have power utilities made the transition to providing broadband communication? What was their experience? Was it successful?
—What are the development risks in the OPALCO broadband proposal? What are the financial risks?
—If the OPALCO broadband proposal is implemented, how many new OPALCO jobs will be created? How many new hires will there be? How many current jobs in the county will be eliminated?
—If 1,000 OPALCO customers paying Rock Island Technologies $35 a month leave Rock Island, that would represent a loss of income to Rock Island of $420,000 dollars a year. Does that put a local business out of business? If on-island internet service providers lose a significant part of their business, how would their service and fees to non OPALCO broadband subscribers be affected?
—How many islanders are currently served by a 10 megabit-per-second internet connection? What is the estimate for the number that will want that speed in three years?
—In addition to the OPALCO initial broadband fees, to what other initial costs are members exposed for computer hardware and software?
—Will current CenturyLink subscribers stop receiving a CenturyLink bill when they sign up for OPALCO broadband?
—If one becomes an OPALCO broadband subscriber and does not like the service, what will be the cost to leave and reconnect to the previous telephone/ISP arrangement?
—For current CenturyLink subscribers, the maintenance responsibility interface is the CenturyLink junction box mounted to the outside of their home. What and where will be the maintenance interface under the OPALCO broadband plan?
—What are the software and hardware maintenance responsibilities of an OPALCO subscriber? If I sign up for OPALCO broadband, who do I call if I have no dial tone?
—Where will the ISP Servers be located and who will maintain them?
—If I subscribe to OPALCO broadband, must my computer be on 24/7 in order to receive calls? Who do I call if I have an internet connection issue?
—If I subscribe to OPALCO broadband, will my present home answering machine still be part of my home phone operation? Will my caller ID still function? Will I be able to block certain telephone numbers?
—In what telephone directory will subscribers to OPALCO broadband appear?
—Why does not OPALCO partner with an experienced telecommunication company to reduce development risk and cost?
—OPALCO says they will go ahead “if about half of our members show their support.” Does OPALCO mean members or members who vote? How many is “about half”?
I hope answers will come soon.