November 21, 2013: Eastsound WA─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.
“In light of the current situation, OPALCO plans to take action,” Assistant General Manager Foster Hildreth stated. “Our infrastructure is a member-owned resource. Members pay for it through their rates. If members—including individuals, businesses, Internet Service Providers, institutions, etc.—can benefit from greater access to this resource, then we will make it available where possible.”
The moratorium on new connections through OPALCO’s Island Network subsidiary will remain in place until OPALCO has developed the necessary elements for calculating the cost in aid of construction (CIAC) that would be required of members to connect. However, for members who are already very close to existing fiber optic lines—especially in the village and town centers—OPALCO plans to begin the CIAC estimation process soon and to begin making connections through Island Network fairly quickly.
“We will continue to grow like a co-op does,” said Hildreth. “Just as when electricity was being rolled out in the late 1930’s, we can quickly hook up those who are closest and then expand the system to connect more members incrementally as our data communications network reaches further and further out.”
This most recent development is not a county-wide retail broadband offering, as was proposed to co-op members in early 2012. OPALCO is already engaged in extending its data communications infrastructure in support of the electric system, for the benefit of the entire membership. As a result of this board directive, OPALCO staff will accelerate this expansion project, and incorporate the ability to connect more members for broadband services at the cost of service.
As this direction takes shape, OPALCO will communicate with the membership to explain options, show available locations and answer questions.
“Please be patient with us,” said Hildreth. “We are already receiving a flood of calls and emails requesting service. It will take time before we are geared up to estimate the costs of broadband service— both initial connection and ongoing subscription rates.” A process will quickly be put into place and publicized widely to accept requests for CIAC estimates.
This acceleration does not mean that OPALCO will necessarily provide broadband services directly to members. Other co-op members and ISPs such as CenturyLink, RockIsland, Orcas Online, The Computer Place and Zito Media can take advantage of OPALCO’s infrastructure and accelerated expansion to provide broadband services directly to members. OPALCO’s Island Network connections are provided at the cost of service—which, depending on location, may not be the most cost effective solution. Members will be able to choose the best solution for their needs and location.
For the latest information, go to OPALCO’s broadband page: www.opalco.com/broadband; sign up for our email newsletter (https://www.opalco.com/about/email-signup/); and follow us on Facebook (Orcas Power & Light Cooperative) and Twitter (@orcaspower). OPALCO is our member-owned cooperative, powering more than 11,000 members on 20 islands in San Juan County since 1937.