Broadband Communities

JAN-FEB 2018

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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FTTH DEPLOYMENTS 3 2 | B R O A D B A N D C O M M U N I T I E S | w w w. b r o a d b a n d c o m m u n i t i e s . c o m | J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 8 Two Electric Co-ops Deliver Fiber For electric co-ops, the stakes are high: Building broadband is an expensive, risky move into unfamiliar territory, but failing to build broadband can mean losing customer bases and stranding their electric assets. A CoBank Report O rcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO) is a member-owned, nonprofit cooperative utility that has provided energy services to San Juan County in far northwest Washington state since 1937. Delivered to 20 islands in the archipelago by way of submarine cables, the majority of its power is hydroelectric energy generated by the Bonneville Power Administration. Delivering power and broadband in this topography and environment creates a unique set of challenges. Together with its wholly owned subsidiary, Rock Island Communications, the cooperative has met these challenges with some very creative solutions to bring smart-grid technology and broadband services to its members. John Donner from CoBank's Electric Distribution team met with Foster Hildreth, the chief executive officer of OPALCO, to discuss how the co-op has used a unique combination of partnerships, member contributions and varying technologies to meet the critical needs of its members. JOHN DONNER: What was the initial driver behind your project? FOSTER HILDRETH: San Juan County was a severely underserved community for modern communications, with sole reliance on a national carrier that made little to no ongoing investment in its infrastructure. As with many co-ops, the very initial driver was a need to better communicate with key grid infrastructure (substations and submarine terminals). Starting in 2000, OPALCO began sharing surplus fiber with larger institutions (public safety, government, schools, libraries) in the county to meet their demand for connectivity. However, a complete failure of an undersea fiber cable belonging to the national carrier disconnected the county for 10 days in November 2013. e immediate impact on emergency management systems, the economy and normal daily life initiated our current course of action. JD: What was the viewpoint of your board and membership before you started, and has it changed over time? FH: Yes, it did change over time. We do really see our world as the time before the cable broke versus the time after it. It was a defining moment in the community that brought home the need On a Chain of Islands in Washington, An Unlikely Recipe for Broadband Expansion ese two case studies are excerpted from "Making the Move Into Broadband," published by CoBank Knowledge Exchange in September 2017. e full report is available on request from CoBank at

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