Fiber update

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., meets with Anacortes city officials Wednesday at the Anacortes Public Library to hear about the city's plans to start delivering powerful high-speed internet. Larsen was shown a piece of equipment of the type that Anacortes used to install fiber optic cables through its water lines.

ANACORTES — In just over a month, internet speeds in select parts of Anacortes will be on the rise.

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

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

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 buildings. The city-run service will be offered with no long-term commitments, and the 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.”

Expanding coverage past 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 the quality of life and economic development.”

After realizing that no current providers were willing to make the investment to bring fiber to the island community, the city formed its own business plan and decided to become an internet service provider itself.

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

The definition can affect what groups are eligible for federal money that is available to help expand broadband internet into underserved areas. Expansion will become more of an issue for Anacortes in coming years as it works to extend beyond the core starting point downtown.

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

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