Monthly Fiber Update: June

A Tough Week for CenturyLink


If you lost your CenturyLink phone or Internet connection this weekend, you were not alone. CenturyLink had a massive, multi-state outage that affected San Juan County, but also major cities like Las Vegas, Omaha, Denver, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Seattle, Apopka, Portland, and Albuquerque. View a map or this weekend’s outage here.

This outage is a big blow to the communication giant having come on the heels of last week’s news. A former CenturyLink employee claimed she was fired for blowing the whistle on the company’s high-pressure sales culture that left customers paying millions of dollars for accounts they didn’t request, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Arizona state superior court.

Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker posted this on Facebook late last night:

“As those of you on Orcas already know, CenturyLink phone service has been down since 4AM this morning. What you may not know, is that 911 is also down. Mobile service still works as does Rock Island internet. If you can, use your cell phone if you have an emergency.

The fact that we are in this situation again with CenturyLink is totally unacceptable. The fact that they have yet to post anything about their outage and the fact that our 911 emergency service is out, is an outrage. While they are not “required” to post an outage for 72 hours, you would think that they might want to alert their customers to the fact that 911 does not work so that someone in need doesn’t waste time attempting to call 911 time and time again from a land line in a time of an emergency. The company also could have sent a group email as about half the island uses CenturyLink for email too.

I have alerted the Chair of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission who regulates CenturyLink and will be following up with them next week. In the meantime, be safe and check on your neighbors.”


CenturyLink Cable Update

A lot has happened since we last wrote about the status of the CenturyLink cable that runs from San Juan to Lopez. This is the same fiber-optic cable that carries all phone, DSL (both CenturyLink and Rock Island DSL) and Verizon cell phone data off San Juan Island to the mainland. If you haven’t heard the news, that compromised CenturyLink fiber optic cable is:

  • Decaying to the point of a much-needed replacement
  • Has drifted over the OPALCO power cable in several areas

OPALCO has been working in partnership with CenturyLink to get them through a difficult permitting process in an impossible timeframe over the past few months. Their goal is to replace their existing fiber-optic cable with a new one in time for OPALCO to replace their submarine power cable. Having received a green light to move forward with their replacement, now the nail biting begins.

OPALCO was able to help CenturyLink get approval to start their work a full month ahead of plan. Their work window started last Friday (June 16), and CenturyLink could theoretically start construction any moment on replacing their cable. A cable replacement is a great thing, but also a very difficult project to pull off without error. There are multiple risks we face until their work is complete:

  1. It breaks during the normal course of the year due to the extremely poor condition of the cable, leaving thousands of people without communications for weeks and possibly months
  2. If it does survive until the fall, it breaks during the installation of the new CenturyLink fiber cable, or during the planned replacement of the OPALCO submarine power and fiber cable in September

So now the nail biting begins. As soon as work begins, the possibility of a break increases. CenturyLink has committed to making sure that all their 911 and emergency phone communications stay up at all times, even during an outage, as mandated by the FCC. This does leave Internet users out in the cold, and a fix could take weeks or even months if something does happen.

Rock Island has been busy setting up redundant wireless links from several locations – and between several islands – to provide capacity for its own customers, and potential CentryLink customers if they need it. While we have offered to carry as much of their traffic during an outage as possible, they have taken no steps to formally engage us on that offer.

So that’s the latest. We will continue to work closely with CenturyLink, their contractors and the community as we draw closer to these main events.


Why DSL Will Never Work

It’s physics, dear Watson. Nothing more.

It’s easy to slam CenturyLink, or even Rock Island, for the poor DSL service across the county. With a county-average Internet download speed of around 2-4Mbps, it’s easy to feel left behind. The national average speed is 26Mbps currently, and comparing the two numbers may leave you scratching your head. How is this possible?

Quite simply, we’re suffering a distance problem. The copper wires used in telephone infrastructure cannot physically carry enough energy through it to support modern Internet speeds over distance. We live miles off the coast of America and prefer to be spread out on the islands where we live.

The reason why DSL will never be the answer we need is laid out clearly in the chart above. In our county, much like any rural environment, there is a mix of DSL technology in service. Depending on the year it was installed, and the time of its last update, the technology in a DSL network can range from ADSL1 to VDSL2. Just recently CentryLink updated several DSLAMS (telephone hubs) with VDSL2 technology, but take a look at what the impact of that new technology over distance. Within 2,100 meters or 1.3 miles, this brand new, high-end VDSL technology can only produce 10Mbps download max. And that doesn’t take into account oversubscription, which they are famous for doing.

So this is why DSL will never solve our Internet crisis in San Juan County. It physically can’t. So what do we do to keep up with the modern world? We need to replace that system with an infrastructure that doesn’t suffer the distance problem. If copper wire and electricity isn’t the answer, then what is? The answer is fiber optics – instead of copper and electricity, it uses glass tubes and laser light. This is a wholesale different utility that has next to zero loss over distance. It also has the capacity to scale from 1,000 Mbps download, to 20,000 Mbps download and more with a simple change in the laser beams on each end of an Internet connection. This is the best bet for our future.

We are not alone. Read this Wall Street Journal article that came out last week entitled, “Rural America Is Stranded In The Dial-Up Age.” Sound familiar? Read this article to get a different view into what Rock Island and OPALCO are doing for our community, and why. You will see that this communications problem is not going away if left unattended, and why it is taking local people to solve this problem locally.

And why shouldn’t we? Islanders have a long history of self-sustainability, community spirit, and tough-nosed will to survive in this beautiful but challenging environment. We wouldn’t have it any other way. And just like our forefathers who brought power to each of our homes, we will continue to take care of our needs now and in the future, as islanders do. Thank you for supporting your local Internet service provider!


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 free tech classes are designed to empower you with technology, and everyone is welcome – and did we mention it’s free? That’s right, 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 classes, 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 our upcoming classes, all free of charge:

Smart Phones

With the release of the first iPhone just under ten years ago, a revolution took place in how we communicate with each other, how we receive and process information and how we entertain ourselves. In this seminar, we will take a look at some of the various devices on the market, the pros and cons to the different operating systems and a quick look at the ways, benefits, and costs involved in syncing our photos and content.

  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Mobile device vs a laptop
  • Basic concepts in syncing your photos, videos, music and contacts
  • Managing limited space


Friday Harbor – Monday, June 19 10am – 12pm
Orcas Island – Every Tuesday in 2017 10am-12pm
Lopez Island – Friday, June 23, 10:30am – 12:30pm


Computer Tips, Tricks and Terms

Get the most out of your computer.  Learn some techniques to help your computer time be more efficient and enjoyable.

Learn to see how your files are organized and how to navigate within your computer.

  • Computer and technical terms
  • Storage vs. Memory
  • Files and folders
  • Understanding the desktop
  • Keyboard Shortcuts
  • What is “Drag and Drop”?

Friday Harbor – Monday, June 26 10am – 12pm
Orcas Island – Tuesday June 27, 10am-12pm
Lopez Island – Friday, June 30, 10:30 – 12:30

We’ll see you at a class soon, and don’t worry, there is no need to sign up 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. Thank you for your time and attention. 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