fiber map

The city is in progress of building a fiber backbone that links up water utilities with city buildings. A future project under consideration is a network that extends into neighborhoods to provide broadband internet.

Over 30 new customers have had the city’s fiber optic internet installed and are in service this month, reported Administrative Services Director Emily Schuh at Monday’s virtual Anacortes City Council meeting.

The new customers brings the total to 246 with a month revenue of $16,074 including the 15 static IP customers.

“We’re getting so close in the central business district and Old Town of meeting our take rate of 35%,” Schuh said. Both areas hover just above 34% for the take rate, which reflects the number of customers signed up for service out of the total number possible in an area.

Designs are complete for the expansion areas to continue to bring customers into service. Those areas will connect aerial lines to the areas abutting the three pilot areas (Old Town, M Avenue and the central business district). Robinson Brothers Construction is contracted to begin work in late July.

The expanded areas will include about 1,300 potential customers, and the fiber department hopes to sign 450 customers up in service to meet the 35% take rate. As of now, 160 orders for those areas have been received.

The department is working with the Samish Indian Nation to bring four sites onto the GPON network and preparing a contract with Island Hospital to lease dark fiber lines for a 31-month term.

Thinking ahead to the 2021 budget year has had the department forecasting revenue and considering different options for debt financing amid network expansion.

“We’re looking at grants. We have a meeting this week to look at a section 108 loan and looking at different ideas for funding, perhaps a line of credit,” Schuh said. Staff also are checking into different construction methods for expansion areas as it transitions to primarily underground installations, she said. Soil surveys indicate that most of this underground work will not have to go through bedrock.

“We understand that we need to find ways to increase the rate of installations; it’s directly driven by the number of installers we have available,” Schuh said, adding that additional staff might be needed to speed up that process.

City sanitation vehicles have started to promote the service with large signs attached to the trucks.

No-contact installations have continued to be offered for new customers, and installation crews follow state guidelines when doing in-house installations, Schuh said.

Council member Ryan Walters asked about the revenue and expressed a desire to speed up installations in order to speed up the increase in revenue to begin to pay for itself and pay back the “quasi-loan” taken out from the city.

“If we install sooner, we get revenue sooner, so if you’re gonna spend the money later it’s cheaper to spend the money now,” Walters said, and suggested the department bring new limited-term employees on board.

“While a 35% take rate is our model, it’s certainly not the ceiling,” he said.

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