Progress Report on Broadband Initiative

As OPALCO’s Board continues to study the feasibility and desirability of the Broadband Initiative, progress is being made. At our last report, there were three major contingencies to address before the Board could consider a vote on the project: adoption of a County Wireless Ordinance, completion of feasibility studies and acquisition of a FCC licensed frequency. There have been positive developments on each front and the Board is moving closer to a decision point.

Last week, the County Council passed a Wireless Ordinance, which includes the Joint-Use Infrastructure provision that will allow OPALCO to build out its fiber and wireless network. The adoption of the Wireless Ordinance was accomplished through a lengthy and thorough public process that included public testimony, legal review and many thoughtful hours of our Council member’s time and attention.

On the feasibility front, initial technical / radio-frequency studies are complete and OPALCO staff members are now field-testing potential equipment, pole locations and coverage assumptions toward a concrete system design. Consultants have developed a number of potential business models and financial scenarios for Board consideration – and the numbers continue to be the most challenging aspect of the project. The Board is committed to finding a solution that makes sense for the co-op model and member affordability.

Meetings to discuss the acquisition of a FCC licensed frequency have been positive and the Board is hopeful that an agreement could be reached in the next couple of months. Much of the system design (including actual coverage, capacity, number of poles and pole locations) is dependent on the frequency that would be deployed. Once an agreement is reached, a concrete system design can be developed.

In addition, the first in a series of public forums held on four islands in May were well attended and have started a rich public dialogue on the project. The majority of feedback from members is very positive in support of the Broadband Initiative, and the Board is also considering the concerns that have been raised about the potential cost burden to members, the fear of health consequences from a wireless network and the potential role of the co-op as an internet service provider. All feedback is being carefully addressed and discussed as the Board moves toward a decision point.

 

To learn more, please look for project updates at energysavings.opalco.com – and stop by OPALCO’s 75th Anniversary booth at the County Fair where staff will be available to discuss the project and answer questions.