San Juan County – a Third World Country?


Here’s a note from Merri Ann Simonson about internet service on the island…

I have never thought of San Juan County as being as remote as a Third World Country although many of my friends tell me they are leaving for “America” when they go off island. I guess I was shocked and appalled to find out that the level of Internet service that is offered in our communities is less than most Third World Countries. I thought the poor service was just at my house or my computer.

As I was personally uninformed, I decided to write this article as a layperson so that the options for our Internet service could be easily understood. I have purposefully not used acronyms and the technical terms. I hope that this article won’t make the technical persons in the industry LOL, too much.

As I understand, there are several avenues for consumers to obtain Internet service in our County and they include the following:

  • Dialup – Internet through the telephone line, which is very slow service. Basically obsolete.
  • DSL – Internet through the telephone line and the level of service depends on your distance from the central office; 0.5 to 10 megabits, but very inconsistent and dependent on well-maintained copper lines.
  • Satellite Service – Internet through a satellite connection. Level of service can be up to 12 megabits but the delays in signal are significant and high data costs are an issue.
  • Via Cellphone – Internet through your cellphone through Verizon. Service level is at 0 to 20 megabits. Heavily dependent on your location on the islands.
  • Fiber Optic from Island Network – Internet service with 10-100 megabits per second, the gold standard. Reliable and scalable.

I was told that the best solution is to use Fiber. It can be expanded in the future and is not distance hampered. It can provide very fast Internet, excellent HD pay TV services, telephone and home security services as well. In the Islands, none of the other options above provide the same levels of speed and quality as fiber.

How do we get it?

It just so happens, OPALCO is currently deploying their grid management updates and they have decided to install the fiber with expansion ability at the same time. Their efforts will bring fiber to the main roads but it will be the home-owners or subdivision homeowner’s association responsibility to arrange for the fiber to be installed in the side roads and to the actual residences. The “middle & last mile” as it is known in the industry. As OPALCO members, we should be pleased that OPALCO is forward thinking and installing the fiber.

In the future, Island Network, a separate operating entity from OPALCO, has agreed to provide Internet and telephone service to islanders. Island Network will not be offering to bundle HD pay TV and home security services. Island Network needs 2000 households to sign up to offer the service.

Island Network will be providing the associated Internet support, but is working closely with Rock Island, The Computer Place, and other local service providers to offer Internet and computer customer service.

Several homeowner associations have already decided to join together and share the funding of the installation of fiber to their subdivision. The cost will vary but the excavation is the most costly item and will run $10-$15 per foot from the main roads such as Roche Harbor Road. Individual homeowners will then need to absorb the cost to install down their driveways. The costs will vary but $4,000-$5,000 would be a good average estimate. Island Network’s monthly fee, including the telephone service will be around $95. There is also a one-time hookup fee of $150.

Roche Harbor Resort has contracted with Island Network via Rock Island, to install the fiber into the resort which will provide internet and telephone services to the transient population staying at the resort and in the marina. Roche Harbor deems having high speed Internet as their number one guest amenity. Guests stay longer when they can keep connected to their work and family.

CenturyLink has not yet presented any new options to our market place nor are they participating with the installation of the fiber. This is understandable as they are very similar to our national cellular service providers. Our demographics do not attract any of the major service providers to invest in the infrastructure so that they can provide the end product to us. Our County just doesn’t have the population to support their economic models.

Having a low population level is what most islanders want and having to deal with issues surrounding goods and services is a consequence of living our dream lives.

As property owners, we need to be the ones that accept the responsibility and bring the fiber to our homes. We need the level of communication, safety and entertainment that it offers. The fastest growing segment of the general population joining Facebook is those individuals that are over 65 years old. Do you know of any grandmas or grandpas in our County?
I am a grandma plus I need to process real estate out of my home office during the off hours.

To achieve 2000 household subscribers, we will need more than the “work at home” people, homes on or near a main road and those financially able to spend $5,000 without much of a dip in their bank accounts.

I know this feels like a very long-term project and will take years to actually see the results of the efforts, but we need to start sooner than later. It is very unlikely that a major service provider will decide that there is enough return on their investment to install the infrastructure needed. Backing fiber is going to amount to faster Internet and the opportunity to bundle telephone, at a minimum. However, the same technology is critical for safety and emergency services in addition to economic relevance.

Currently, our average speed for Internet from all sources is 1 megabit as compared to America that offers 20-30 megabits. It takes approximately 3 megabits to stream a video.
Advice: If you are newly constructing a home, remodeling or just excavating on your site, it is prudent to install conduit for fiber even if you don’t plan on actually hooking up to the service. If your neighborhood is doing any excavation, the homeowners association should contact Island Network about installing fiber.

It you would like to research this topic more, I would recommend contacting Gerry Lawlor at 917-664-2747 to discuss.

This island has always strived not to become a place of “those that have and those that have not”. Historically we have always applied that to not wanting to develop into a location such as Martha’s Vineyard or Jackson’s Hole. It may be time to consider that the “have not’s” will be those homes without good Internet service.

As a REALTOR it is a concern to me that America continues to progress and we are remaining in the dark. As part of any buyer’s feasibility study on a purchase, we recommend that they determine whether the level of Internet service at the property will be suitable for them.

Will your property be a “have or a have not”?

By: Merri Ann Simonson
Coldwell Banker San Juan Islands Inc.

Posted on November 8, 2014 at 5:34 am by

Categories: Letters


  1. The other option for people in the town of Friday Harbor is cable, currently through Zito Media. We recently switched from CenturyLink DSL and now get 28-30 mpbs regularly.

    Comment by Ellen Roberts on November 8, 2014 at 8:30 am
  2. Well thought out and certainly well timed! Thanks. I would add that we also need to urge our supervisors to work on improving the cell service on the island. Cell service is also third world standard ( I had better service in the middle of the Gobi Desert!) and is a serious safety issue. I was struck by a truck while on my bike and the driver had to run from house to house to find a telephone. In my case the time delay was not an issue, but I hate to think what would have happened it time was more important.

    Comment by Robert H Stavers on November 8, 2014 at 10:31 am
  3. With all due respect to the author, comparing our internet “problems” with those of a “developing” country is laughable at best and offensive at worst. For sure it reveals a deep seated ignorance and hyperbolic tendency.

    As some one who has spent the better part if the last 20 years working in all corners of the world, trying to help these “developing” countries with issues of health care, education, and infrastructure- I can say with confidence that all of them would
    gladly welcome the “problems” addressed in this article. That said, I’m not sure they’d welcome our local culture’s eagerness to complain and gripe over the most petty of issues.

    For the main difference of course is the question of choice. At the end of the day, for us we have a choice. Let’s stop the negativity and complaining and truly appreciate what we do have. America is full of high speed internet hubs. Part of the joy of the islands is doing without. Truly.

    Comment by Thorvaldsen Simensen on November 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm
  4. Thanks Merri Ann. I’ve been posting about this on FB, also. We are looking for an alternative to CenturyLink and their oh-so-poor DSL service. I saw a national article on this discrepancy between national providers and locaL successes. Pretty pathetic.

    Comment by TeriLyn on November 10, 2014 at 10:04 am
  5. My name is ray Jackson and I am an authorized dealer of both DISH SATELLITE and VIASAT EXEDE INTERNET located in the heart of Friday harbor.

    I wanted to clarify some of the mis-information regarding today’s satellite internet service.

    As you probably already know, fast Internet service is a rare commodity in San Juan County. And nowadays, there are very few online activities that dial-up Internet will support. Given these facts, satellite Internet becomes a hugely attractive and helpful option for the residents of San Juan County. Luckily, you can start to receive satellite Internet coverage right away, if you can clearly see the southern sky from where you live.

    My company exclusively services the San Juan County area and for over 2 years we have provided satellite internet service to over 130 San Juan County residents, in locations that were once thought to be unable to receive high speed internet.

    Although we say that the service can get up to 12mbps download and up to 3mbps upload, The vast majority of our customers speeds range between 15 and 30 mbps download and 2.6 to 4.5 upload, which as you can see exceeds the requrements.

    The typical rural Internet options – dialup and DSL – do not bring you the speed needed for today’s online opportunities, but with Exede Internet in San Juan County, WA, you can:
    ◦Take part in video chats
    ◦Shop at online stores and surf the net
    ◦Play online games
    ◦Stream movies, television shows, and music.
    ◦ Engage in social media, Internet education, and online business.

    call me at 360 375-7107 or go to the exede website tofind outmore’

    Comment by RayJackson on November 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0
%d bloggers like this: