May 2017 Update - Slow Progress

 05/22/2017 -  WCCBP -  ~3 Minutes

It’s been almost 6 months since our last community meeting, and although we’ve shared a few updates over Email, we wanted to take a moment to share more with you. Although we’d hoped to make a bit more progress before the rain fades, a combination of work and community planning has taken its toll (did we mention that Phil, among his many roles, is also leading Shrimpfest   this weekend?)

The good news is that we have made some important progress behind the scenes, and are gearing up for the next steps this summer. Here’s a quick update of what we’ve done so far in 2017.

Network Planning - Door by Door

Since our meeting in December, we’ve compiled over 400 names from people interested in service in the area. While that’s exciting, it’s given us the data we needed to study where we need service the most. As many of you who signed up know, there are a lot of people who don’t have easy line of sight to Mt Jupiter.

We learned a few things from our study: there is a lot of demand in the Olympic Canal Tracts, lower Lazy C Ranch, and in a variety of smaller clusters along the waterfront. The technology we’re building the network with is designed to work best when you can “see” your neighbor or the tower. That means line of sight to a neighbor who is interested in service, a pole that can “see” a bunch of homes, or the tower itself.

We need volunteers to work together to survey the last mile.

In particular, we need help from people who live in and know the OCT and Lazy C. To get a briefing on what it takes, read our handout . If you’re interested, Email Robert (the tech guy.)

Our hope is to conduct a planning over the Memorial Day weekend.

Legal Planning

We’ve also been hard at work on the legal structure for the network. While we can’t announce our plans yet, we’re working to reduce startup costs by leveraging an existing non-profit vehicle in the area. Look for more in our next update.

Network Provider and Cost

The next-to-last (and best) news is that we’re working with a new provider, who has a lot more experience in the area, and who has helped us greatly reduce the initial cost of building the network connection to Kitsap. This was our single largest risk (so far), and we now have a clear path toward launch.

Funding Meetings

Our final update revolves around funding. A number of members in the community have stepped forward and offered tentative funding - enough we may be close to enough to get a network online this summer. If you’d like to help but haven’t contacted us, please Email us .

December 2016 Community Meeting

 11/16/2016 -  WCCBP -  ~1 Minute

Join us for our next community meeting in Brinnon at 4PM on December 3rd, 2016 in the Brinnon Community Center.

November 2016 Community Meeting Recap

 11/06/2016 -  WCCBP -  ~3 Minutes

Approximately seventy-five people attended a short notice, community broadband meeting in Brinnon, Washington, on Saturday, November 5th. The meeting was part of an organizational effort by folks between the Hama Hama and Mt. Walker who either have no, or miserable broadband service. The group plans to take things into their own hands and establish a community owned system if commercial providers continue to ignore the area.

It was an old fashion, rural community get together on three days’ notice. The town hall meeting of the West Canal Community Broadband project, WCCBP, (as they call themselves) lasted ninety minutes, then broke into small group question and answer sessions. Growing quickly and driven by incredulous experiences with incumbent providers, where available, and the WCCBP website has nearly a hundred applicants.

After over two years of research and options evaluation, the leaders are proposing a wireless broadband system for the area. The signal, at least a full gigabit, would come in from the east, Seabeck area, to Mt. Jupiter. From there the service would be carried by a non-profit cooperative corporation made up of and owned by members of the community who become an owner/member. The signal would be relayed from points in Brinnon and Black Point, up and down the west canal. The group’s target service area is centered on the Duckabush and Dosewallips valleys, extending north toward Pulali Point and south to Canal Tracts, Eaglemount, Triton Cove, Beacon Point, and Eldon.

“It’s been more than 5 years since Washington D.C. invested in a statewide fiber-optic network. Our community constantly hears of alleged service in our area, only to learn the incumbents have no plans to expand service, and our only choices remain high cost national providers that limit use and keep speeds low. Research tells us of federal money for rural areas with no broadband, but Hood Canal Communications, WAVE and CenturyLink have failed to serve the area adequately,” said Phil Thenstedt, co-coordinator of the WCCBP. “DSL service is 20th Century and at peak times, dial up is faster.” As one attendee put it, “I guess we aren’t rural enough for the federal money, right?”

Thenstedt added, “We’ve done our homework, and pretty much have the technical side scoped out. We know it’s possible. In the end, this will come down to money, as it always does. We are looking at federal, state and local assistance, but since they have ignored us this long, it is highly probable that we will need to go it alone. We’re now focusing our work on creating and financing a co-op structure so the community remains in control, and we can move quickly.”

WCCBP is planning a second town hall meeting for December, 3rd, 4PM, Brinnon Community Center, Brinnon Washington.

We’re in the news!

 11/04/2016 -  WCCBP -  ~1 Minute

Special thanks to the Peninsula Daily News, who included a small article about our work in the November 4th edition. Read more about it here   .

How much will it cost?

 10/31/2016 -  WCCBP -  ~4 Minutes

How much will this whole thing cost? Well a lot of that depends. There are two parts: the fees we pay to build the basic infrastructure, which can support from 1 to hundreds of users; and the costs to run the network each month.

Building the Network

Design Costs

Before we get started, we have to do a little bit of design. This includes a lot: estimating how much bandwidth we need, how many antennas we need on the tower, and how much power we need (since it’s solar powered during the day, every watt counts).

The harder part is for people who can’t see the tower. If you live way up the Duckabush or Dosewallips, that means you. It also includes people in higher density areas (Lazy C and the Duckabush flats).

For every case, there’s a technology that can provide service to you, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all decision. Careful planning around terrain and the number of users is required to ensure you all receive the service you want.

So, before we plug in the first wire, we’re hiring a professional engineer to research and build the network.

Non-Recurring Charges

At its simplest, the network requires a one-time payment to buy and install all of the equipment. Although you can save some money if you buy a slower radio, most of the cost is actually in labor and installation. (Adding a new antenna to cover 30-50 homes costs $300 in equipment, but several times more to mount and install.)

Our largest one-time charge is to build the main wireless link to our upstream Internet provider in Kitsap County. It’s expensive because we’re actually building two towers, the wireless equipment to connect them, and paying for an FCC license to ensure we have enough bandwidth.

The second biggest expense is the equipment that we’re installing at Mt Jupiter. That includes our antennas and the extra batteries needed to ensure the network stays online for days even if there’s a storm that knocks out the diesel and solar cells.

Monthly Network Costs

Once it’s all plugged in, there are monthly costs to keep it all working. That includes paying for our lease on the towers, the electricity to power it all, our bandwidth from the Internet provider, and support costs like credit card fees.

We’ve also got to plan for periodic maintenance and upgrades on our equipment as we sign up more people and equipment reaches the end of life.

While some of these fees are variable (e.g. they are directly related to how many users we have), most are not (rent is fixed, regardless of users). That means we need to be sure we have a good user base that can sign up at launch to ensure we don’t run out of money too quickly.

Customer Prices

Although we’d love to talk about prices, it’s still too early for us to know for sure. The primary driver is understanding how many people are interested and where they live. If everyone in the Lazy C wants to sign up at once, it’s less expensive than providing service to a few people all over the valley.

We have a very good understanding of most of our costs. Our preliminary estimates showed that with 100 subscribers, we can barely pay our monthly bills (after all costs) if we charged $100/month/user (including tax).

While we think the price is fair compared to an LTE connection (which is $120-200/month) or mid-tier satellite service ($100/month), we don’t like it. On the upside, you won’t be slowed down in the evening like satellite, or have small data caps like LTE connections.

Our goal is to be competitive with the entry packages from every provider, without the restrictions. That means lower installation costs and lower monthly fees. As we learn more about how much interest there is, we’ll be releasing more details on pricing.

We’re also looking at how we fund our one-time costs. We may seek some people to buy “shares” of the network up front, try to get a loan or grant, or seek federal assistance. Much of that will be driven by how many people we can service. The more people on the network, the less expensive it gets for everyone.

Can it work?

 10/31/2016 -  WCCBP -  ~6 Minutes

That’s a great question. Let’s talk about the answer.

In a word, yes. There’s a lot of precedent out there for how to do this. Several companies specialize in building equipment designed for small wireless networks just like ours, and they have years of experience doing it.

If you’re interested in your own research, search for WISP (which stands for Wireless Internet Service Provider). You’ll find hundreds across the country, in both huge cities (like in San Francisco   ) and small ones (like the Doe Bay Internet Users   up on Orcas Island). The model works, but it takes funding and a user community to make it work. Even Google is getting into the game in bigger cities, announcing that wireless Internet is how they plan to deliver faster connections in the city   .

How it works

The network has three main parts: a high speed wireless connection between an Internet provider and Mt Jupiter; a few antennas on Mt Jupiter; and a small antenna installed on your house/pole/tree.

Internet access

We’re working with a commercial provider to build and maintain a high capacity link to the Internet that we can grow over time. At launch, our goal is to have at least 1000 mbps of capacity available, with the ability to add more when needed.

Our Internet connection is likely to come from the Kitsap County PUD as a wholesale Internet service. Our connection across the Hood Canal will be built and operated by a microwave provider that specializes in point-to-point links and has experience with other small community networks here in Washington. They’ll be responsible for monitoring and operation, ensuring we have a stable and reliable connection to the Internet at the tower.

From there, we pick up the service.

Mt Jupiter Network

The Mt Jupiter tower is owned by a local resource management company. We will be leasing tower space and data center space. In return, they provide power from a solar system and diesel generator that keeps us online 24 hours a day.

We’ll be installing roughly a half dozen small antennas on the towers plus a battery backup system that gives us several days of additional backup power. That helps ensure the network is always on, even when winter storms roll through.

Customer Equipment (CPE)

The final component is a small radio installed at your house. Just like a satellite dish, it’s got a highly directional antenna pointed at your nearest access point, which could be Mt Jupiter or a smaller relay station near your house. Once your antenna is installed, and your link light turns on, you’ll give our team a call to enable your account and be online.

If you have line of sight to Mt Jupiter, your antenna will range in size from a large flood light (~5") to a 24" dish (a bit larger than your satellite TV dish). The further you are, the larger the dish. Costs range from ~$100 to ~$200, and the equipment takes almost no experience to install - just a screwdriver, an Ethernet cord, a ladder, and a clear day.

If you can’t see the tower, you’ll likely need to connect via a relay (see more below). If you’re close to the relay, your antenna may be even smaller - about the size of a small paperback book.

You’ll own the equipment, which means no monthly “box fees” to pay.

What’s more, all of the equipment is outdoor rated (we’ve had one unit outside in Brinnon and it’s worked flawlessly for more than 2 years), so you don’t have to worry about protecting it.

How fast will it be?

If you want to get a taste, try the WiFi at the community center. It’s roughly the same speed that we’ll provide subscribers of the personal plan. Business service will be roughly twice as fast. Our goal is to maintain a minimum of 25 mbps upload and download to every customer all the time.

Your download speeds will be comparable to the national average (per the FCC). Your upload speeds will be significantly faster than average (double the speed of ISPs in the city). Most Internet companies limit your upload, which means uploading those photos takes longer.

If the network isn’t busy, we’ll also allow you to burst up to the maximum bandwidth available. That means you may see individual speeds up to 250 mbps (depending on distance). While we can’t guarantee that sort of speed all the time, when you are bursting, you’ll faster than the best ISPs in America   .

As a point of comparison, DSL in Brinnon is 8 mbps download, 0.768 mbps upload. Our service would be more than 3x faster download, and 25x faster upload. If you use LTE or Satellite, you usually get no more than 12 mbps download and 3 mbps upload, so our service would be 2x faster downloading and ~8x faster uploading.

What about those who can’t see the tower?

We know a lot of people don’t have line of sight to the tower, either because they have trees in the way or terrain obscures their view. For those users, we’ll be working to install relay stations, which use a pair of radios to “bounce” the signal. Using a relay helps us span longer distances without losing speed or performance.

A great example are the Marina slips. They’re in the shadow of Mt Jupiter, but we can bounce a signal off of a tall tree at Black Point and back toward the docks. People would point their antennas toward the relay point, instead of the tower.

Each relay is pretty simple - two antennas and a small battery backup system to keep it online when the power goes out. The harder part is getting property owners to agree to installation. Once we have a better list of who is interested, we’ll decide where we need relays and start contacting owners about the possibility of installation.

Who will run the network?

Right now, we’re planning to staff the project with a combination of part-time professionals as well as members of the board of directors. Most of the time, we won’t need to do anything outside of monitoring that things are healthy and proactively upgrading equipment when units near their end of life.

Technical support and billing will be handled by a regional call center (we want to find a team that’s 100% based in the PNW), so you can get questions answered and handle billing issues 24x7.

Unlike other networks, our goal is to make this fully sustainable, and to model in the cost of maintaining equipment, upgrading technology, and extending our service to as many people as possible into our monthly subscriber costs. We believe that enables us to maintain a healthy business, and to return the savings back to customers in the form of lower monthly bills.

Our intent is to form a not-for-profit corporation that would provide the service, allowing us to avoid relying on public utility districts or for-profit providers to expand service, and ensuring the community remains in control (so we don’t get left in the cold again like we saw with DSL.)