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OPALCO & Rock Island are bringing High-Speed Broadband to SJ County!

March 20, 2017

OPALCO (Orcas Power & Light Co-operative) started supplying energy to the San Juan Islands in 1937 and has continued to look for innovative ways to support its members. In 2015, it acquired Rock Island, our local Internet Service Provider, so that both companies could work together to bring high-speed fiber optic broadband to San Juan County. Both companies (Rock Island is now a subsidiary of OPALCO) feel strongly that rural communities should not be left behind when it comes to basic utilities and that our communities can take care of their own needs.

How are OPALCO and Rock Island doing this? Imagine Interstate 5 running the length of Washington and then imagine the main highways of 520 and 405. If you were driving home, you might need to drive on I-5, then 520, then a main arterial to your neighborhood road to your driveway. It’s much the same with fiber optic broadband. OPALCO has the connection to the fiber optic backbone (I-5 and 520) and access to the backbone is provided by Rock Island. OPALCO and Rock Island can’t build the entire system by themselves, but they have taken on the heavy lifting with installing the main infrastructure. The companies are encouraging homeowners and neighborhoods to organize into “fiber groups” in order to complete the final states of the installation, known as the middle mile (the main arterial) and the last mile (your neighborhood road and driveway). With a group of people, the cost for the installation will be less and everyone will benefit.

Knowing this is a large mission to take on, OPALCO and Rock Island have created two incentives to financially help the fiber groups and homeowners. The first is the Construction Incentive, which is a $1500 one-time credit that goes toward your last mile build cost and the second is the Discount Incentive, which is reserved for those who are willing to cover the entire cost of construction for the middle and last mile to their property. More detailed information can be found here. Also check out the following links for a current map of the main infrastructure for San Juan County and a couple of fantastic videos about the middle and last mile. Rock Island’s website offers a clear and easy explanation of the whole operation and has a ton of info on their services. It’s worth a look!

As you drive around on the islands, you’ll see the OPALCO folks on the side of the road installing the large red tubes that house the fiber optic lines. Slow down, give them a wave and say, “Thanks for helping to bring the county high-speed broad band!”.

Best regards,

John and Sarah