Fiber

Colette Weeks / Anacortes

American

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and city Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer examine a device Sept. 4 used to deploy fiber optic cable using water lines. 

It’s official: As of next month, access to high-speed fiber optic internet service will be available in parts of Anacortes.

It’s the culmination of the city’s investment in, and installation of, a fiber optic cable network and creation of a broadband utility.

By early October, city-run broadband service is expected to be offered to 254 businesses in the Central Business District. There are two options for business service: 100 megabits per second for $89 a month, or 1 gigabit per second for $149 a month.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., met Wednesday, Sept. 4 with Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere, city officials, staff and local business owners for an update on the city’s Municipal Fiber Broadband project.

The network is expected to expand to the Old Town area by year’s end and then along a stretch of M Avenue, offering service to 1,000 homes and business. The city-run service will be offered with no long-term commitments, and prices have been set to compete with retail service providers.

“We wanted price points to be a no-brain decision,” said Jim Lemberg, municipal fiber business manager for the city. “The overall vision is to eventually cover all of Anacortes.”

For residential customers, the cost will be $39 per month for 100 megabits per second and $69 per month for one gigabit per second. There will be a one-time $100 installation fee for both business and residential customers.

Expanding service beyond the first three pilot areas depends on how financially viable the project is by the end of its first year.

The City Council approved use of about $3 million from Anacortes’ general fund reserve to cover startup costs for the project — funds that are expected to be returned as the project gains traction.

Gere said the fiber project, now five years in the making, had been a huge undertaking with roadblocks along the way. But she and other city officials felt getting high-speed capability that fiber optics can provide was important “for quality of life and economic development.”

After realizing that no current providers would invest in bringing fiber to the island community, the city formed its own business plan and decided to become an internet service provider itself.

The fiber optic network has enabled Public Works to speed the transmission of information between its utilities, Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer said.

Upon Gere’s suggestion, Buckenmeyer searched for a quick and effective way to install fiber optic cable between utility stations. He discovered that some countries in Europe run fiber optic cables through water lines rather than trenching in roadways.

Anacortes is believed to be the first city in the U.S. to lay fiber optic cable between its utilities using water lines.

Fiber optic cables run through the active water lines between the Anacortes Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant near Mount Vernon, as well as pump stations and other facilities.

In addition to the water lines providing a backbone for the fiber network, the system can detect leaks in real time as they occur, Buckenmeyer said.

The work on upgrading Anacortes’ internet service citywide should be finished by the end of 2023, Lemberg said.

Lemberg told Larsen the city would like to see the FCC update its definition of high-speed broadband, which is currently defined as a download speed of 25 megabits per second.

The definition can affect eligibility for federal money that is available to expand broadband internet into underserved areas. That will become more of an issue for Anacortes as it works to extend service beyond the pilot areas.

Larsen asked about details and infrastructure at the meeting and told officials he intends to have more conversations with them about their concerns regarding federal regulations.

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