As OPALCO’s Board continues to study the feasibility of the Broadband Initiative, progress is being made. At our last report, there were three major contingencies to address before the Board could consider a vote on the project: revision of the County’s Wireless Ordinance, completion of feasibility studies and acquisition of a FCC licensed frequency. There have been positive developments on each front and the Board is moving closer to a decision point.
Last week, the County Council passed a revised Wireless Ordinance defining Joint-Use Wireless Facilities. These are facilities that can provide support for multiple public services on one utility pole, including electrical power management and Public Safety radio communications. The broadband component of these systems could be used to provide true high-speed internet service county-wide, and could help us achieve better cell phone coverage if the cellular providers agree to use these facilities. The adoption of the Wireless Ordinance was accomplished through a thorough public process that included public testimony, legal review and many thoughtful hours of our Council member’s time and attention.
On the feasibility front, initial technical studies are complete and OPALCO staff members will be field-testing potential equipment and pole locations as we refine the system design. We are working with industry experts to develop potential business models for Board consideration – and the numbers continue to be the most challenging aspect of the project. The Board is committed to finding a solution that makes sense for the co-op model and for the membership.
Meetings to discuss the acquisition of a FCC licensed frequency have been positive and we are hopeful that an agreement could be reached in the next few months. Much of the system design (including actual coverage, capacity, number of poles and pole locations) is dependent on the frequency that would be deployed. Once an agreement is reached for a specific frequency range, a final system design can be developed.
In addition, public forums held on four islands in May were well attended and have started a rich public dialogue on the project. The majority of feedback from members is very positive and in support of the Broadband Initiative, and the Board is also considering concerns that have been raised about the potential cost burden to members, their issues with RF emissions and the potential role of the co-op as an internet service provider. All feedback is being carefully reviewed as the Board moves toward a decision.
To learn more, please look for project updates at www.opalco.com – and stop by OPALCO’s 75th Anniversary booth at the County Fair where staff will be available to discuss the project and answer questions.
OPALCO is our cooperative electrical utility serving more than 11,000 co-op member-owners on 20 islands in San Juan County. We provide electricity that is 95% greenhouse-gas free and is predominately generated by hydro-electric plants. OPALCO was founded in 1937 to bring electricity to our rural islands.