Community News

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A volunteer consultant said the city could and should build a high-speed fiber Internet service here that, he says, could bring new income to the city as well as benefit residents and businesses alike.

Have you ever tried to stream a movie on the Internet and be frustrated because it stops and starts? Well, there is a proposal before the city to build a high-speed municipal Internet service.

Bruce McDougall told the City Council on Monday night that his calculations show that, with enough subscribers, the city could operate a high-speed Internet with fiber-optical connections to every home and business on the island.

He described connection speeds of 1 Gigabit, considerably higher than the fastest speed available now. Most homes are limited to a small fraction of that speed. And, he said the cost to customers would likely be little or no more than they’re now paying for the much slower speeds.

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McDougall used this to illustrate the difference between 1 Mb per second ad 1 Gb per second speeds.

McDougall, who works for Cisco Systems, a multinational technology company that manufactures and sells networking equipment, volunteered after being approached by a couple of City Council members who were seeking a cost analysis for such a system.

He told the Council that a full buildout with underground fiber optic connections to virtually all 6,000 buildings in Anacortes could be accomplished for around $18-million. He said, however, that the city could start small and wire only the corridor along the Commercial Avenue corridor. And, he said fiber on utility poles would cost less.

He suggested the city could model an Internet service along the lines of the city’s existing municipal water utility, pointing out the city already has the mechanisms in place to operate an Internet service.

McDougall said a high-speed network here would give the city the cache of being a visionary 21st century city. He said it would align the city to take advantage of emerging trends in home-based entrepreneurship, cutting-edge medicine and manufacturing, cloud computing, and declining television and telephone subscriptions.

He said it was unlikely that the two major Internet providers here now, Comcast and Frontier, would invest in the infrastructure to provide faster Internet because they’re already charging the prices that are being charged in other cities for higher speed connections.

McDougall used Sandy, Ore., as an example of a small city that did just what he says Anacortes could do: create a fiber-to-the-home network. They started in 2011 building underground fiber throughout the city. The full cost of the system was $8-million. More than 60 percent of the residents and businesses are subscribing now. And, pricing is $40 per month for 100 Mb service and $60 per month for 1 Gb service for residential customers. Business customers pay more.

City Council member Liz Lovelett endorsed the idea, saying, “I think there are a lot of people who are not happy with their Internet service.”

The Council has not scheduled any further action, but is expected to bring it back for consideration once more solid cost figures are worked out.