Monthly Fiber Update: March

Lopez Island LTE Complete


Not too long ago, we drove our trucks onto Lopez soil with the intent of making it safer for locals and visitors, and to bring much-needed Internet services to islanders, including businesses in the village. Believe it or not, for years, businesses in the village have had some of the slowest Internet service in the county. Even worse, there were even some businesses who couldn’t get Internet service at all (the village has long been an ‘exhausted’ zone for CenturyLink, as well as several other spots on the island).

In just about one year, we started and recently completed our LTE Fixed Wireless rollout across the entire island – with 8 sites in all – allowing us to serve ~80% of the island with Internet speeds that have never been seen before, and made it safer for people to dial and receive 911 calls from almost every hill and dale on the island. Last month we activated the last of our eight planned LTE sites, completing our wireless rollout on Lopez Island.

This is just a quick note to say thank you Lopez! It has been a pleasure to build out this new network on an island that has been hit the worst by the San Juan Internet crisis. If you have joined us on Rock Island LTE Fixed Wireless already, thank you for supporting your local ISP. And if you haven’t made the move just yet, or you’re getting our fiber optic broadband at your home or business, we look forward to bringing you faster Internet and cheaper phone very soon!

Our LTE Rollout is Now Complete on Lopez!

LTE Fixed Wireless is now available to all locations we can possibly serve on Lopez. Find your eligibility on our website here and get relief from slow Internet today:

See if you qualify for LTE Fixed Wireless. Switching is easy and you will feel fantastic supporting a local company.

What this also means for Lopezians is that you can now drive from the ferry landing to Cape St Mary’s without dropping a call if you’re on a T-Mobile cell phone (with a headset, of course). If you haven’t heard the news, T-Mobile is now the dominant cell provider in the county. For comparison, there are currently:

  • 4 Sprint cell site in the entire county
  • 4 AT&T cell sites in the entire county
  • 4 Verizon cell sites in the entire county
  • 26 T-Mobile sites in the entire county (expanding to ~38 by the end of the year)

If you haven’t switched your cell phone to T-Mobile yet, you might want to consider it. You will be safer on our roads and able to stay connected from Anacortes to Friday Harbor without dropping a call. Join us in our Friday Harbor retail store where we will be selling T-Mobile phones soon – coming in the next 30-60 days!


Untangling CenturyLink


There has been a lot of talk about CenturyLink’s eroding submarine fiber cable that runs from San Juan to Lopez these days. All of the details that surround the cable can be a bit overwhelming at times, so we thought we would surface the two main issues about the cable that affects us most:


1) It may break before they replace it this summer.

If you read our newsletter last month, you will know that there have been several articles that have come out recently about the condition of CenturyLink’s eroding underwater fiber cable that runs from San Juan to Lopez island. All of their DSL, telephone, and 911 traffic goes through this cable. All of Rock Island’s DSL customers on San Juan run through this cable too, and if that cable breaks, there is little hope for a quick repair.

While CenturyLink states that all 911 and “most phone traffic” will not see a drop in service if their cable breaks, they also admit that all of their DSL data will stop transmitting completely, and for an unknown amount of time. While their executives acknowledge that the situation is “less than ideal,” they don’t offer any plan B until they replace this cable in August. The truth is, if the cable breaks, all DSL customers on San Juan will have no Internet service for as long as it takes to repair or replace their cable.


2) It may break in September if they miss their deadline.

OPALCO has been planning to replace its submarine power cable running from San Juan to Lopez for about a decade, and more actively planning for it in the past four years. It takes about that long to go through all the proper channels for approval and coordination. For years, the CenturyLink submarine fiber cable that frayed and finally broke in 2013, has been drifting over and wrapping itself around the OPALCO power cable from the easement next to it (by law, all utilities are assigned specific easement locations where they need to be placed out of the way of each other). This complicates OPALCO’s plans to remove and replace their existing power cable this fall.

It was discovered recently that CenturyLink had never obtained approvals from the state to place its cable underwater next to OPALCO’s submarine cable in the first place. So, it was a surprise when OPALCO discovered that not only is CenturyLink’s eroding fiber optic cable encroaching their easement, but that it has been illegally squatting in that channel for years. Only now is CenturyLink, after years of prodding from OPALCO, and several demands from state agencies, are mobilizing to replace its fiber optic cable this summer, and due to a very short timeline to get out of OPACLO’s way, they only have one shot to get everything right.

The CenturyLink executive who testified in front of County Council this January told us all, “we believe we can replace this cable before OPALCO begins their work in September. While there is very little room for error, we feel confident we can secure all the permitting and complete the project by then. We have been in these situations before, and we feel confident we can meet our goals.” We wish everyone shared his confidence.

Joel Mietzner, the OPALCO submarine cable replacement project manager, who was also the point person in 2013 when the CenturyLink cable broke, has real concerns about CenturyLink being able to get all necessary approvals and get out of the way before OPALCO begins its submarine cable replacement project. If CenturyLink does not deliver on its promise, outages in September may be imminent.

OPACLO and CenturyLink both agree that we will know if CenturyLink will make its goal, or miss it, as early as mid-May when critical permits are set to be issued. We will keep you in tune as things develop with this situation.

Hey, we’re a CenturyLink customer too.


While we have additional sources of traffic from San Juan to Lopez, Rock Island sends a large amount of traffic through this very fiber submarine cable too. As a corporate customer of CenturyLink, we have an interest in their safe transition to a new cable and hope for the best in this tricky situation. Please know that we will continue to work with them and help in any way we can.

What you may not know is that the new OPALCO power cable coming this fall will also have 144 strands of fiber inside of it. This cable will complete a full, inter-county fiber ring design that OPALCO and Rock Island have been planning for years. This will allow us to use our own infrastructure for our network traffic within the county – and back to the mainland.

Once this cable is in place we will be set up for a massive amount of traffic headroom for years to come. Redundant, expandable, safe. Protected by over 30 pounds of steel per foot, our fiber won’t be subject to the tidal and water conditions CenturyLink faces today, ever.


Fiber Optic Broadband


We have talked a lot about our wireless project over the past several months. With 26 LTE sites going online in a 15-month period and almost 2,000 new customers moving over to it county-wide during that time, it has somewhat drowned out what we’re doing with fiber to the home and business. The update on fiber is good. With over 200 people active in the process of getting fiber at this very moment, and roughly 950 people in line behind them, our fiber pipeline is almost more than we can handle. We have an estimated 2-years of work on our hands, and demand continues to grow.

Groups are still lining up in droves, and we have been expanding our Individual Connection program as distributable fiber comes online all over the county (connecting people directly to a nearby fiber distribution point). The organizing process is the same as it has always been, and the details can be found on our website explaining each step to take to get a fiber connection to your home or business, and there are plenty of videos there now to help too!

Fiber optics remain the gold standard of the Internet, and the heart of this project. With an average of 2 new Rock Island fiber customers coming online every day, we are still blown away by how happy our customers are that they took the time and interest to organize and bring this amazing new utility to their neighborhoods and homes. If you haven’t done so already, get started organizing today! You will love how good it feels to have a stable and blazing-fast Internet connection.


Free Technology Classes


Are there any technology topics you could use a primer on, or a computer skill you want to brush up on? If so, this program is designed for you! Our Rock Tech Seminars are designed to empower you with technology, and everyone is welcome – and did we mention it’s free? That’s correct, anyone and everyone are welcome to come and learn about the latest technology and trends in our 2-hour seminars.

We will be hosting this series on San Juan, Orcas and Lopez Islands from now until the end of the year at our public libraries. In these Seminars, we will cover a wide range of topics each week. The curriculum will be the same on every island, so don’t worry about missing anything or having to travel to another island for a class you want to catch.

Here Are The Upcoming Tech Seminar Classes, All Free:

The Online Life, Part 2: Using the Internet

Friday Harbor – Monday, Mar. 20 10am – 12pm
Orcas Island – Tuesday, Mar. 21 10am -12pm
Lopez Island – Thursday, Mar. 23 10:30 – 12:30

As a follow-up to the previous seminar, this seminar will provide an understanding of how the internet works, how to make the best use of it, and how to be as safe as possible while using it. Topics may include:

  • Wading through the terminology? What does it all mean?
  • Understanding websites
  • Understanding links and popups
  • Streaming content vs broadcast television
  • Online shopping and financial security
  • My life is controlled by passwords (Part 1): Understanding why we got so trapped and how to untangle the web?


The Online Life, Part 3: Computer and Online Security 

Friday Harbor – Monday, Mar. 27 10am – 12pm
Orcas Island – Tuesday, Mar. 28 10am-12pm
Lopez Island – Friday, Mar. 31 10:30 – 12:30

In seminar 3 of the series, The Online Life, we will take a look at what internet security means. We will revisit the concept of personal security and attempt to separate the truth from the hype. Topics may include:

  • What are Viruses?
  • What is Malware?
  • What is “Scareware”?
  • What is actually bad and what is hype?
  • How to protect myself, my family and my business?
  • My life is controlled by passwords (Part 2): Password management and helpful solutions?

We’ll see you at a seminar soon, and don’t worry, there is no need to signup in advance. Just come on down if you have the time and we’ll be happy to see you.

That’s all for this month folks. Thank you for your time and care. We’ll be back next month with another Monthly Fiber Update. We appreciate your ongoing support; we couldn’t do this without you!

All our best,

The Rock Island Team