Monthly Fiber Update: September

Hello folks,

Welcome to the first installment of our Monthly Fiber Update.
Before we start with our update, we want to take a second to thank you for completing our Indication of Interest form online over the past several months. Please know that we have received your request, and look forward to connecting you to our network as soon as we can.

There have been over 2,500 people who have expressed interest to date; that’s a big chunk of our county. We’re embarking on a historical journey together, and the response we’ve received so far is confirming that.

In this email series, we will answer some of the most common questions about our fiber initiative. Every month we will send out information to keep you up to date on the project, and let you know how to get involved if you choose to do so.

Before we get to some questions and answers, I’d like to give you an idea of what we’ve been up to this year:

  • In January we launched a wholly-owned subsidiary of OPALCO and kicked off this initiative with three charter employees
  • Rock Island was purchased in February which grew our team to 14
  • In April we developed and launched a plan to support our first-responders and emergency services countywide!
  • This summer we hired more engineers, field techs and support professionals increasing our team to 20
  • All the while, we’ve been adding distributable fibers and infrastructure to set the foundation for our future offering

As you can see, we started the year with a bang. But we didn’t stop there; we also took on several pilot groups to begin deploying fibers all around the county.

To date, we have completed or are in development with projects in the following locations:

  • Eagle Lake on Orcas Island
  • Seattle Pacific University on Blakely Island
  • Alder Cottages on Orcas Island
  • Cape San Juan on San Juan Island
  • Mineral Point on San Juan Island
  • Spring Point on Orcas Island
  • Mineral Heights on San Juan Island
  • The Highlands on San Juan Island
  • Whiskey Hill on Lopez Island
  • Alder Forest on Orcas Island
  • Suncrest on Orcas Island

That’s over 350 connections in total, and so far, the response has been very positive. Here is a nice note we received from our Fiber Group Organizer in Eagle Lake after we completed their installation:

“Here at Eagle Lake our fiber optic experience with Rock Island has been excellent. Rock Island’s work came in on budget, in a timely manner and with professional installation and service. All the people that I’ve met at Rock Island have been extremely knowledgeable, professional and committed to doing an excellent job. It’s a great team of people. Everyone in our community is now enjoying fast broadband which allows our members to work from home, watch videos, conduct video calls, download large documents and do other things that had never been possible for us to do from here before.”

– Ron Rosenberg, Orcas Island

We’ve spent a lot of time hammering out processes and procedures as a new company this year, working out the kinks, partnering with groups to get them online, and most vitally, setting up a fiber-optic foundation to deliver screaming-fast broadband. As we have worked with our pilot groups, we have made plenty of mistakes that we have used as lessons to scale this project up to full capacity. We sincerely thank each and every person and group that has helped us learn and grow; we couldn’t do this without your help, your open minds, and your patience, so thank you all for that!

OK, now for some hot topics. This is only a partial list, and in the coming months we will continue to use this update as a way to educate, enlighten and delight, so sit tight and we’ll work through this project together.

How Much and When? by far the most asked question

This is a real-life chicken and egg situation. Most people ask me, how much is it going to cost and when can I get it? That’s a very fair question, but the answer is dependent on two factors: one, how many people are participating in your area, and two, where they live.

The reason for this dependency is the physical properties involved with getting you fiber. Oddly, and somewhat ironically, our high-tech rollout of this amazing new utility starts with something as basic as dirt, and in a lot of cases in our county, solid rock.

1. On the “How Much” side of this question, there are two parts:

  1. What type of earth do we have to dig through? Due to the scale of work we’re embarking on, we’ve secured some favorable rates with our contractors. We’ve developed average prices for digging in normal, medium, and difficult terrain. We’ve also enlisted several different digging methods to make laying conduit as fast and as economical as possible. What type of terrain and how we dig through plays an important role in calculating your price per foot.
  1. How many linear feet do we have to cover? When we talk about how many linear feet we have to travel, this points to another set of questions: who is included in this digging, and where do they want us to enter their home? Without knowing how many people we need to serve, and therefore the total amount of feet involved with your project, we can’t provide a number.

2. The “When” part of this question is dependent on you getting organized with us. This means completing a series of pre-construction steps, including defining the list of people participating in your group, choosing a single point of contact (a Fiber Group Organizer), iterating designs and agreeing to the costs and routes we will take, which rate plans each of you want, and some approvals for digging to your home. Once these steps are complete, we put your group and all of its members in our construction queue. Once scheduled, construction begins and usually completes in 2-3 months.

I indicated interest online – Now what?

Thank you for completing our online form indicating that you are interested in learning more about getting fiber to your home or office. This is a vital first step. We use the information you provide to build our plans for moving through the county. So now what?

There are two things you can do next:

1) Wait for us to contact you when we are moving through your area. It will likely take 3-5 years to roll this brand new utility across the county, but rest assured, by the end this big push, everyone who wants to be connected will be connected. This is a big effort, comparable to when OPALCO started deploying electric service in 1937. If you are willing to wait for your connection, your timeline will be defined by our rollout plans. As your area nears, we will contact you to begin the process of getting connected.

2) You may be curious about how the first people received service on the list above; the answer is simple – they were the first to organize. If you want to take control of your own timeline, get organized. Motivated individuals can rally as a group to organize the who and where, ultimately effecting the how much and when. To get started, talk to those who live around you, your HOA, road association or simply interested neighbors to see who wants fiber broadband. Select a point of contact and drop us an email at: [email protected]. We’ll get back to you with instructions on how to move your group toward connectivity.

I see the backbone from my house; can’t I just connect to it?

Many residents have witnessed our crews installing fiber in the ground or in the air all around the county. This leads to a question that seems very reasonable to me. If it’s right there, can’t I connect to it? The answer is of course, a little more complex.

We recognize that not everyone in the county fits nicely into a group, an HOA or road association. In situations where residents fall into this category, we are working on plans to connect individuals to the backbone directly. We are designing an individual connection queue that will outline the processes and economics involved. If you feel you qualify as an individual connection – meaning there is no natural group around you to form – please email us and we will put you on our individual mailing list for future updates: [email protected]. Expect more news on this in the coming months.

I’ve called and emailed Rock Island a thousand times and can’t seem to get a response!

One of the more challenging parts of our organizing to date has been our ability to get back to all the people calling and emailing wanting fiber. We literally get hundreds of calls and emails a day that range from current fiber subscribers, to individuals on Crane Island wanting to know if they can get an LTE connection before the end of the month, and everything in between.

This overwhelming response has only informed us how important this initiative is for our county, and we use that as fuel to move faster and to design the most robust network we can. We sincerely thank you for your patience; we know it has been frustrating trying to get a hold of us.

We have been putting systems in place that will help us manage our inbound contacts over the past few months. We are also striving to put a SLA (service level agreement) in place so each of you will get an answer from us within a reasonable amount of time, no matter the inquiry.

To shed some light on how we manage this tidal wave of correspondence, we want to explain the priority in which calls and emails are answered. Specifically, communications are answers in the order they are received, and in the following areas in priority order:

  1. Current customer questions and support
  2. Customers who are in development or construction
  3. Group leaders (FGOs) who are organizing
  4. New inquires for groups/individuals and businesses who want to get involved

If you have called, emailed or done both, please be patient. We will get back to you as soon as we can.

I want my connection now!

We understand, and we want you to have it now too! If we could flip a switch and turn everyone on at once, we would. The most common download speed we hear reported is 1.5 mbps or less, and in some places in our county, service is totally “exhausted” (meaning no more connections available). With limited speed availability, and the trend toward streaming media, the crisis we face is quite real, and we’re here to deal with that in a methodical and forward-thinking way that will ensure that we all have usable and scalable Internet connectivity for the coming generations.

Wow, sorry this email got so long, but there is much to say! We will resume again in October with the next addition of our monthly fiber update. In the meantime, we are making progress every day around the county. Thank you for your time and patience and most importantly, your support.

All my best,

Dan Burke
VP Sales & Marketing
Rock Island Communications