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Rock Island: A World of Connection

Imagine the past five months of pandemic isolation without access to the internet. During this time, islanders have relied more heavily on the internet to work from home, to get access to medical care, to go to school, and to keep in touch with loved ones. Imagine the pandemic had hit us before 2014 when Rock Island Communications stepped up to bring fiber and LTE Fixed Wireless broadband access to 20 islands in San Juan County. Many rural communities across America are facing this struggle.

Rock Island has grown from a modest start-up to having 6,000 subscribers in San Juan County. The key to success: partnership. Rock Island is a wholly owned subsidiary of OPALCO utilizing the electric co-op’s fiber backbone to build a broadband network. For LTE Fixed Wireless, Rock Island partnered with T-Mobile, who invested their own money into building a network that provides internet services covering the islands – while also improving access to cell coverage throughout the County. Rock Island also partnered with neighborhoods, who banded together to bring fiber to their homes on a shared-cost basis and quickly expanded the fiber network to reach even more customers.  The new county-wide emergency radio system is being built on the Rock Island-OPALCO backbone, which saves county tax payers well over a million dollars in project costs and will remove the gaps in coordinated first responder communications.

Kudos and thank you to all of the islanders who have helped build this success story by subscribing to Rock Island services.

In a recent survey, Rock Island customers told their own stories about how the fast and reliable internet services Rock Island provides have helped them through the disruption of the pandemic.

“I am a teacher and I need reliable internet to communicate with my students. My son had to move home for his final term of college and reliable internet was the key to him being able to successfully complete his courses and GRADUATE! We are very grateful for Rock Island making this stressful time a successful time.” Mandy Randolph, Farm to Classroom Teacher, Orcas Island

“Our patients have been able to see a familiar face from day one via telemedicine. That continuity of care is vital – being able to check in and SEE the patient as well as hear them, especially with chronic disease management. Reliable internet for telemedicine is also a crucial aspect of our business, as you can’t bill insurance or Medicare for a phone call. With telemedicine, we can see patients, maintain continuity of care and bill appropriately for our valuable time.” Dr. William F. House, MD, Eventide Health, San Juan Island

“I work remotely as a consultant to the World Bank. A solid Rock Island fiber connection allowed me to help the World Bank’s Energy Access practice to develop a strategy to rapidly mobilize installation solar hybrid systems across client countries to power oxygen concentrators and other essential medical equipment as part of the client country’s COVID-19 response. For the past two months, I’ve been in daily contact via WebEx with colleagues in Haiti, Washington DC and Germany working with the World Bank and United Nations to rapidly deploy millions of dollars in solar electric equipment for designated COVID-19 hospitals in Haiti. The internet connection has been instrumental for my kids as they transitioned quickly to online learning at Lopez School. It also allowed me and fellow school board members to carry on essential school board meetings over Zoom.”  Chris Greacen, Energy Consultant, Lopez Island

“IT IS KEY TO EVERYTHING! We are one of only two organizations in the region that can care for stranded seals, and that requires staying connected to a critical network of wildlife experts and veterinarians via Zoom. Without solid internet, we couldn’t do what we do.” Chanda Stone, Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rescue, San Juan Island

Outstanding. We were able to have three kids in remote school and two adults working from home on video calls for 6-8 hours per day.  My days include lots of video conference calling, sales meetings, demos for solutions we’ve built, running big reports, etc. We’ve had a phenomenal experience and honestly couldn’t have moved here full time without Rock Island and OPALCO.” Jen Winter, Tech Executive, Orcas Island

Rock Island and OPALCO have, once again partnered up to help islanders in need during the pandemic. OPALCO has expanded its “Energy Assist” program to provide monthly bill credits to residential and commercial members in need, and Rock Island offers a $25/month bill credit for customers on OPALCO’s Energy Assist Program (show your power bill to get the credit). This Spring, Rock Island applied for a USDA distance learning grant to install remote learning facilities to support teachers and share teaching resources in every middle- and high-school classroom in SJC. Grant awards will be announced at year end. Currently, more than 100 households county-wide are connected to FREE internet service for online schooling through Rock Island’s “Access Education” program.

The collective investment of partners and subscribers in this project has already significantly moved our community toward true world connectivity, but the work isn’t done until all islanders can enjoy a success story such as those shared above.  What services do you need to protect your family, your business or your health? For a state-of-the-art fiber connection, go to rockisland.com/getfiber to fill out the online fiber request form. You can now finance a fiber connection on your OPALCO bill through Switch it Up. If you are a subscriber and are experiencing any difficulties, please reach out to our support team so we can find a solution at support@rockisland.com