Last summer, Senator Kevin Ranker’s office contacted Lance Evans, Executive Director of the Orcas Chamber of Commerce, asking if island businesses suffered any negative impacts due to the CenturyLink outages, particularly over the July 4th holiday. Last week, Ranker communicated his discussions with Century Link to Evans. Ranker’s letter follows.
October 7, 2013
Over the July 4th weekend, many San Juan County residents experienced repeated internet outages and disruptions, as was described in detail by many who shared their frustration with me through letters, phone calls and emails. CenturyLink provides internet service to the islands, and the outage over the July 4th weekend is not the first of such disruptions.
Recently I met with CenturyLink’s senior official for the Pacific Northwest region, Brian Stading, as well as two other CenturyLink officers, Mark Reynolds and Tom Walker, to find out what CenturyLink is doing to prevent future interruptions. I explained to them that the outage was not only an enormous inconvenience to thousands of island residents reliant on the internet, it was also costly for the many businesses on the island that depend upon reliable internet communications with their customers and clients. I told CenturyLink’s representatives they need to work to ensure that it will not happen again.
I also wanted to know what CenturyLink is doing to expand broadband to the Islands after publicly stating that they would continue to serve our community and would not need the larger OPALCO proposal that had been proposed.
They told me CenturyLink is expanding the capacity of a broadband fiber ring that runs through Orcas, San Juan, and Lopez Islands. For unknown reasons, over the July 4th weekend a fiber connection came loose at a location not connected with the expansion. This is an important point because the typical cause of an outage is a cut fiber from a backhoe. But in this case there were no obvious signs of any construction mishaps, so workers had to work their way along various points of the ring throughout the islands checking for connectivity.
Brian said, “ It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Compounding the problem was the holiday weekend, which meant workers who handle this specialized work had to be located and sent to the Islands. Once the loose connection was found it was repaired immediately. They assured me that CenturyLink is inspecting all similar connections to avoid any future surprises.
Brian told me CenturyLink is now upgrading its fiber system to accommodate the expansion of wireless companies in the area. It is also aggressively expanding capacity at various distribution points along the fiber ring. A possible partnering with OPALCO would speed up this effort, but CenturyLink had no plans to expand into rural areas where OPALCO expansion is planned. While CenturyLink will continue to upgrade their system, my understanding is that they will not significantly expand their coverage area beyond urban growth areas.
I reiterated with CenturyLink’s management that the company must make a strong commitment to maintaining reliable internet infrastructure in the Islands, and that they must be open and transparent with their customers about the outages and what is being done to eliminate them. I left the meeting confident my messages were received. Now it’s up to CenturyLink to move forward with their promises.
Washington State Senate, 40th Legislative District