A recently published story on Ars Technica chronicled how a group of neighbors were able to successfully create their own internet service.
Until last year, the only internet available to the 5,000-plus residents of Orcas Island was a slow, 1.5mbps connection. The local internet service provider, CenturyLink, was unable to provide fast or reliable internet to the people on Orcas island.
Chris Sutton lives on Orcas island and was fed up with the slow, unreliable internet service he had. Sutton and a few others decided to start the Doe Bay Internet Users Association and make their own internet service.
“We can see these towers that are 10 miles away, and you realize, ‘hey, can’t we just get our own microwave link up here to us from down there, and then do this little hop from house to house to house via wireless stuff?'”
That’s exactly what Sutton, along with some neighbors, did. After convincing a number of neighbors to commit, the Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA) paid StarTouch Broadband Services around $11,000 to send a microwave link from their tower to the island.
To be clear, the DBIUA did not become a true internet service provider, but rather a reseller. The internet service provider in this instance is StarTouch.
The DBIUA set up their equipment on top of a water tower. The 50-foot water tower was the only structure tall enough on the island to have a point to point connection with the StarTouch tower.
Once the main connection point was set up, the DBIUA set up radios on people’s homes or trees to get them connected. The DBIUA now connects 50 homes on the island.
“For some people, like me, the signal comes to my tree, and then down into my house to service me.”
Sutton used drones to help map out the wireless signal pathways. Now, the 50 homeowners that have a fast connection are more than happy.
“With a $25,000 loan and many hours of volunteer work over the past few months, five Doe Bay residents – Tony Simpson, Shawn Alexander, Tom Tillman and Chris Brems, spearheaded by Chris Sutton – have brought high-speed broadband to the Doe Bay community.”
Bob Shipstad, a resident of Orcas Island and DBIUA member, said the new connection is amazing.
“The fact that we can now actually watch an HD movie, without signal interruptions, is just amazing. Plus, sending and receiving emails with photographs no longer bogs down our computer.”
According to Sutton, DBIUA members now have fewer internet outages, no data caps, and much faster download and upload speeds. Users now receive between 30 to 40mbps download and upload.
With speeds like that, DBIUA members don’t have to wait for their videos to buffer for very long if at all. Speeds of 30 to 40mbps is a respectable internet speed by city standards, so the fact that people out on an island can get that kind of speed is quite incredible.
“There’s actually a thriving global network of community wireless initiatives—many of whom stay in regular touch and swap information on recent software advances, promising hardware, and innovative business models.”
As long as slow, unreliable, or nonexistent internet service areas are around, community internet initiatives will continue to pop up. The success of projects like the DBIUA help to grow the global effort to provide everyone with fast, reliable internet connections.
[Photo by Michael Bocchieri / Getty Images]