EDC supports OPALCO/Rock Island broadband expansion efforts

By Victoria Compton

Director, San Juan County Economic Development Council

Over a half-century ago, the Carnegie Institute released a report on a contraption that was changing the way America received its information. This report suggested that the technology could reinvent the way that education was delivered to American children, that it could help lift kids out of under-educated poverty and pave the way for their economic security.

That contraption – the television – went on to fundamentally change the way that most of us receive information. As a result of that Carnegie Institute report, shows like “Sesame Street” were created to reach and educate all kids.

And just like the television (or the radio – or books – before it), broadband has the capability of completely changing and improving the way educational content is delivered to us. Indeed, it already is improving the delivery of educational content, making it on-demand, specific, and giving us instant access to any content conceivable.

Broadband has the potential to reinvent businesses – opening markets and globalizing businesses in ways that were not even imaginable 30 years ago. Broadband has the potential to keep our homes – and ourselves – safer.

Access to high-speed internet is a fundamental catalyst to the improvement of communities’ economic health. A study by the Brookings Institution has shown that for every one percentage point increase in fast broadband penetration, employment is projected to increase by around .25 percent a year (http://bit.ly/GG0ZuA)

Recognizing that fact, in 2009 the San Juan County Economic Development Council, in concert with the San Juan Island Community Foundation, created a workgroup to assess gaps in communications infrastructure and service, and to set goals to improve broadband service in San Juan County.

After those initial workgroup sessions, a stakeholder meeting and a county-wide needs assessment survey, it became clear that San Juan County needed improved broadband for economic development, public safety, education and other quality of life issues.

In 2010, we at the EDC approached all existing service providers to discuss how to solve this county-wide problem. It became clear that, with more than 100 miles of fiber-optic cables already installed and a keen interest in improving the county’s economy and well-being, OPALCO was ideally positioned to help solve this problem. Fortunately, the board of directors at OPALCO saw the benefits of co-op members having access to high-speed broadband, and they stepped up to lead this effort.

Indeed, no other entity could offer the same infrastructure that OPALCO already had in place, nor were other companies truly interested in working to serve our community with a county-wide, full-scale expansion of broadband at low cost. OPALCO has access to extremely low-interest financing – financing no other provider could participate in. This minimizes debt service costs, making the project more affordable to the community.

With the purchase of Rock Island Communications in Friday Harbor, OPALCO’s infrastructure was coupled with Rock Island’s expertise and existing customer base. This accelerated progress and further reduced costs. With the addition of OPALCO’s partnership with T-Mobile and their investment in the LTE system, our community will have a modern standard of connectivity for broadband and cellular coverage.

The San Juan County Economic Development Council wholeheartedly supports OPALCO’s work on improving broadband in our county. As we have for the past six years, we support and encourage their efforts to connect our community, every step of the way.

Better broadband benefits everybody. Preschoolers, seniors, business owners, telecommuters, students, emergency services responders and those who call on them for help – essentially, everyone in our county. Improving broadband makes good sense for us as a community.

Read more online: http://www.islandssounder.com/news/374029851.html