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Anacortes, Wash., Begins Designing Municipal Fiber Network

The small island city off the coast of Washington has taken the first steps in its plan to provide Internet to homes and businesses that's faster and cheaper than what’s offered by private companies.

(TNS) — The city of Anacortes took a step Monday toward developing its own fiber-optic Internet network when the City Council gave the go-ahead to design part of the network.

The city commissioned the nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) to design the central portion of the network in the northeast area of Fidalgo Island for no more than $175,000.

The long-term goal of the project is to eventually provide internet to homes and businesses that is faster and cheaper than what’s offered by private companies.

The city will begin by creating the backbone of the network to be used by Public Works to control its facilities, including water reservoirs and water treatment plants.

Those facilities are currently controlled by an unreliable radio-based telemetry system, said Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer.

“Every day my guys are telling me we have (communication) failures,” Buckenmeyer said. “A fiber telemetry system is arguably the best system you can have. Our current system is outdated and we need to do something about it.”

The central portion of the fiber-optic network could be fully built in about 18 months, Buckenmeyer said. Most of that time would be spent obtaining permits and doing design work, with construction taking about six weeks.

To complete the network backbone, the city would need to install fiber-optic cable from that central portion east to the Skagit Regional Airport and also to the northwest part of Fidalgo Island.

The full cost of construction is estimated at $3 million, Buckenmeyer said. The central portion is estimated at $1.2 million, eastern portion at $960,000 and western portion $1 million.

After the design work is complete, NoaNet will find a contractor. The City Council will then have to approve the contractor.

The city chose to work with NoaNet because it is a municipal corporation funded and managed by several public utility districts in the state. It has the experience to design, build and run the network, Buckenmeyer said.

“It is very economical,” he said.

The design and construction of the central portion of the network would be partially funded by money from the city’s water and sewer utilities.

The council voted 6-1 in favor of starting design work on the fiber-optic network, with the dissenting vote coming from Councilwoman Erica Pickett.

She said it was hard for her to justify paying for the project with money from other utility revenue after the city recently raised water and stormwater rates to pay for future maintenance.

A representative from Comcast spoke during the public comment period Monday, explaining that the company already has a fiber optic backbone that the city could possibly utilize.

Council members, such as Councilwoman Liz Lovelett, expressed doubt that Comcast was the solution to driving down internet costs, citing a Comcast estimate that it would cost $17,000 to run fiber cable from Seventh Street to the Depot Arts Center.

The push to create a municipal fiber-optic network has been about two years in the making.

City officials have toured other cities that control municipal networks and talked with private Internet provider Wave Broadband.

©2016 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.