When you’re an island, literally, and want better options for your Internet access, you have to get creative. In the case of Rock Island Communications on the San Juan Islands, the choice was clear: establish your own ISP.
The San Juan Islands cluster in the most northwest tip of Washington state, off the coast of the cities of Bellingham and Anacortes, and just spitting distance from the Canadian border. Hitching a ride on a ferry boat is the only way to access this remote but beautiful chain. A little more than a third of the residents of the 20 islands are seasonal, and the islands’ median age is 55 years old, according to Rock Island Communications. Visitors and residents alike experience the rough weather, thick Douglas fir overgrowth, and rocky terrain one would expect from the Pacific Northwest coast. These environs make for beautiful vistas - the islands are considered a vacation destination - but less than ideal conditions for high speed Internet access.
“After the Cable Broke”
Rock Island Communications is a wholly owned subsidiary of the San Juan County-based electric co-op Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO). Rock Island Communications started as Rock Island, a local ISP with around 12 percent of the market share. OPALCO bought the small ISP in 2015, and the private venture has just entered its third year of expanding construction and operating both Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and Fixed LTE Wireless services. The wireless service, for more remote subscribers, is run in a partnership with T-Mobile and involves sharing infrastructure and splitting costs. By the company’s own estimates, Rock Island now retains nearly 40 percent of the market share, with a 2:1 ratio of wireless to FTTH subscribers. The ISP expects to have a positive cash-flow by the end of this year.
But how does a locally-owned and run telecommunications contender...Read more