PointNet and Whatcom Public Utility District No. 1 together have been granted $3.1 million from the Washington State Broadband Office. The grant aims to support construction initiatives in underserved communities throughout the state.
The county will match the grant, resulting in a total award of $3.5 million. The project will benefit a minimum of 1,200 homes in specific areas of the Point. The federally funded grant is conditional and is pending approval from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Whidbey Telecom received a different grant which covered the expenses for installing and operating a Wi-Fi hotspot in an area with limited connectivity. Martha Ford, marketing manager of Whidbey Telecom, presented an update on that grant and the progress of the company’s fiber internet installation in Point Roberts during the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) meeting on April 20. Ford told committee members that the proposed location of the hotspot would be Lighthouse Marine Park.
During a meeting of the Point Roberts Taxpayers Association on May 11, community member Laura Swan raised objections regarding the proposed location of the hotspot.
“This hotspot hasn’t been discussed with anyone,” Swan charged.
Following up, Swan later contacted the grant provider for Whidbey Telecom to ask if the hotspot could be relocated to a different area outside the designated location.
According to Swan, the grant provider confirmed that the change was acceptable, and said, “They wanted to provide the best solution for our community.” Swan has proposed the marina as an alternative location, as her Wi-Fi signal is weak when she sells ice cream at the Friday markets. As a boater, she also wanted to have Wi-Fi access at the marina.
At a special meeting called by PRCAC, Swan said she had discussed the idea with the chamber of commerce, PRCAC, and the park district, saying all of them agreed that the marina was an ideal spot. “I would prefer to see people windsurfing at Lighthouse Park rather than internet surfing. If I were camping with my children, I wouldn’t want them glued to the internet,” she said.
In an interview with the All Point Bulletin, Whidbey COO Donna Hilty was surprised by the objection, stating, “I can’t imagine why anyone would oppose having a resource like this in their community.”
Ford had described the advantages of locating the hotspot at Lighthouse Park during PRCAC’s April meeting, citing its overwhelming popularity as a gathering spot for locals and visitors and the fact that Canadians are often reluctant to incur roaming charges while visiting the Point.
The company also mentioned its plans to locate a small office trailer for the use of the public for remote working at the park. Other than boaters in range of the Wi-Fi signal and the seasonal Friday market, the site proposed by Swan has no other users.
Hilty expressed hesitation to change the hotspot location to the marina because it is privately owned, and placing a public resource there seemed inappropriate.
“That would be like giving a gift to the marina instead of benefiting the entire community,” Hilty explained, adding that Whidbey Telecom’s next step would be to discover the reasons behind the objection. Hilty plans to rely on Whidbey Telecom employees on the Point and their marketing team to conduct research and determine the best solution for the community.
Construction on their underground fiber optic line installation along Marine Drive has been halted since early May after an archaeological artifact was discovered during excavation.
The duration of the pause is uncertain, pending the results of tests conducted to assess the nature of the finding.
Hilty explained, “Sometimes we encounter things that turn out to be non-archaeological, and we can resume work immediately. Other times, we discover something significant and must engage with the relevant indigenous tribe and involve them in the process. Currently, we are still unsure.”
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