Broadband program faces obstacles


Archaelogical discoveries have continued to plague the installation of fiber optic on the Point. At the May 16 meeting of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee, Donna Hilty, COO of Whidbey Telecom, addressed the stalled progress on the installation of underground fiber optic cable.

The project was halted late last year due to archaeological discoveries on Marine Drive. Initially, work was expected to resume by the end of the first quarter, but this timeline proved “overly optimistic,” according to Hilty.

“The site’s significance was greater than anticipated,” Hilty explained, noting that the state-approved archaeologist has been on-site since January. With no clear timeline for resuming work, Whidbey Telecom is exploring alternative technologies and plans to announce their new strategy within 90 days.

While two of their three Point Roberts-focused grants are on hold, the third, the Middle Mile project which would connect Point Roberts and other communities to major internet trunk lines via submarine cables, remains on track.

“We’re pretty pleased about that,” Hilty said.

Andrew Entrekin, director of broadband and power supply at Whatcom County’s Public Utility District #1 (PUD), also provided updates on the PUD’s broadband initiative. The PUD is planning to cover 90 percent of its service area using overhead wires, but it may require some underground installations where utility poles are absent, which may pose similar challenges to Whidbey Telecom’s project. The project boundary has been updated to reflect new broadband availability data, including areas outside Whidbey Telecom’s grant coverage.

Currently, the PUD is in the design and permitting phase, having contracted CobbFendley and Associates to assess utility poles. Entrekin anticipates construction to start sometime after July of this year.

“There is a lot going on in the background,” Entrekin reassured attendees despite the lack of visible field activity. The PUD will build and maintain the infrastructure, with internet service providers delivering services to end users through an open access system.

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