Looking back

This whole DBIUA internet thing started a little over 2 years ago, and looking back there is a lot that I learned in the process and a lot that I should share with you all.

After the Ars Technica article, I said to many who emailed me, “check back on the website”, and I will update it with more information.  Well, this is the start of that process.  It’s going to be a bit random at times, but hopefully by reading everything, or maybe using Google, you will come upon the information you need.

There will be technical information spread out here, along with some good stories, and some of my take on OPALCO/Rockisland and why I think they are going in the wrong direction.

Doe Bay Internet Recognized Nationally

Ars Technica did an article about what we have created:


This prompted a lot of incoming emails (which we are working on responding to), from all over the United States, as well as other parts of the world, including places like Croatia and Papa New Guinea.

The story was picked up on Redit, Slashdot, and some other places.  I (Chris Sutton), was interviewed by KIRO radio in Seattle, and there have been other websites that picked up the story, like Popular Mechanics, and Quartz.  From the emails we received, we also found out about several other locations which are doing this, or are on the verge of coming online, like AUWireless in Golden, CO.

More links to articles:

Fastest Internet speeds on Orcas

Fastest Internet speeds on Orcas reported by DBIUA members

With reported download speeds of over 30mbps and upload speeds of 45mbps, all the benefits of high-speed broadband have become a reality for Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA) members.

“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,” said Bob Shipstad, Doe Bay resident and DBIUA member. “We certainly don’t miss seeing that little spinning ball on our TV or computer screen.”

“The service exceeds our expectations,” added Shipstad’s wife, Gael. “It’s put an end to our Internet frustration.”

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.

“This has been a total grassroots effort,” explained Sutton, DBIUA co- founder and board member. “We’re neighbors helping neighbors. The Doe Bay community repeatedly asked our local Internet service providers for better service; we received no solid answers or solutions. So, in the tradition of Doe Bay’s pioneer spirit, we rolled up our sleeves and did it ourselves.”

DBIUA’s service comes by microwave from the mainland and is delivered with wireless technology to members throughout the Doe Bay community.

DBIUA’s service costs $75 a month with no cap on usage. The cost of DBIUA membership is $150 (refundable). Equipment cost is approximately $125.

With a current membership of 25, DBIUA plans to keep its Internet service price at $75 a month for the next three years. After that, once its start-up loan is paid back, service costs will drop to the $50 to $60 range.

“We have new inquiries every week. As more members join, our loan will be paid off that much faster,” said DBIUA co-founder Tom Tillman. “The Association is totally member-owned. It’s a nonprofit – no one is doing any of this to make a buck. Our goal is to provide a reasonably priced, stable Internet service to benefit our families, neighbors and businesses out here in Doe Bay.”

June 25, 2014

Installation of FCC Microwave link, and connection speeds to 100Mb/s.

It’s up and running. Doe Bay Internet Users Association is online.

After months of delivery systems research, technical evaluation and cost analysis, the Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA) is pleased to announce its efforts have paid off; the Doe Bay community-owned internet service is up and running.

According to Chris Sutton, head geek of DBIUA, there is now an installed test base of five homes in diverse locations. “They’re all receiving microwave transmission from Star Touch, our off-island internet provider,” said Sutton. “There have been no surprises. Radios are in position. Some trees have been strategically pruned, and we were given permission to remove a few others. Except for the environmental challenges, nothing technology-wise has caused us heartburn.”

DBIUA is using existing public-frequency wireless transmission. “It’s not as though we’re starting from scratch, trying to cobble something together,” explained Sutton. “The technology is proven. Hundreds, if not thousands, of other communities use similar wireless networks.”

There are approximately 200 homes in the Doe Bay area. DBIUA estimates 25 percent of those are likely to be interested in high-speed internet. The remaining households, if they use only email, may decide their current DSL service is adequate.

DBIUA membership and equipment costs will be approximately $250 per member. Monthly service charges initially will be in the $90 range. Once start-up loans have been paid back, monthly charges will be reduced.

“What makes this possible is that Doe Bay residents have embraced the idea of a community-owned internet service,” said Chris Brems, DBIUA board member. “It entails allowing us to place a small radio, or antenna, on private property – up in a tree or on the side of a barn. It needs to be in line-of-sight with a neighbor’s radio, so a signal can be moved on down the line. Today’s technology makes it pretty simple.”

Tom Tillman, another DBIUA board member, summed it up by adding, “This year’s Independence Day parade theme of ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors’ is fitting for what we’re doing in Doe Bay, where community is alive and well.”

January 30, 2014

Doe Bay Internet Group Presents Wireless Option to Community

The newly formed Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA) presented their initial findings on Saturday, January 25, to a standing-room-only crowd at the Doe Bay community room.

Chris Brems, DBIUA board member, gave a recap of the internet service problems facing Doe Bay residents. He explained that CenturyLink has shown very little interest in upgrading its system to better serve the Doe Bay community.

“Orcas Island was a tag-along when CenturyLink purchased Qwest – to get the larger Northwest market, they had to take us,” said Brems. “We’re what is called a legacy system – old copper telephone wire technology. Because of Doe Bay’s location and limited growth, CenturyLink is not willing to invest in solving our problems.”

Chris Sutton, also a DBIUA founding board member, explained the results of the group’s explorations. Using proven state-of-the-art wireless technology, a fast, stable internet service can be provided to most Doe Bay area residents. When asked why CenturyLink isn’t exploring that solution, Sutton replied, “CenturyLink doesn’t do wireless.”

Feedback from those who heard the presentation was enthusiastic.

Sea Acres resident Stu Stephens commented, “I was surprised to hear that my neighbors are having the same internet issues I’m experiencing. When I’ve called CenturyLink to complain, they always tell me the problem is with my equipment.”

“To learn that we in Doe Bay are paying the same amount for our on-again, off-again 1.5 mbps internet service as those just down the road in Olga, who receive 6 mbps with no service problems, makes me furious,” said Judy Whiting, Doe Bay resident.

The DBIUA group laid out an implementation plan. “It all appears doable,” explained Sutton. “All of us will need to make a small investment in equipment, but the payoff in being able to keep in contact with the outside world, for pleasure, education and business, will be well worth it.”

Our initial network looks like this:



The Doe Bay area of Orcas Island is loosely defined as the area east of Olga on the southeast part of Orcas.  In includes the Shorewood, Sea Acres, Eagle Lake, Roehl’s Hill and Pioneer Hill neighborhoods.  The area is made up of around 400 parcels, of which about 200 are developed.  Not all residents are full time.

Doe Bay has a couple notable existing associations.  The Doe Bay Water Users Association (DBWUA), which provides water to the area, and the Doe Bay Community Association (DBCA), which has a long history of bringing the community together at potlucks and events throughout the year, including the annual Fourth of July festivities and the Doe Bay Fire Hall.

One of the main businesses in the area is the Doe Bay Resort, which has become famous for hosting the annual Doe Bay Fest music festival each summer.

Internet Access

Internet access in the Doe Bay area is provided primarily via Century Link (CL) DSL.  Some local ISP’s like RockIsland and OrcasOnline resell CL DSL but they still rely on CL equipment and copper phone lines in the ground.  Some residents have internet via satellite, and some can get service via cell phone/LTE providers like Verizon.

There are 3 CL remotes in the area that service DSL customers.  Olga, Shorewood and SeaAcres.  If you are close enough to the Olga remote, which is connected upstream via fiber, you can get fairly consistent 6mb/s service.  If not, and you connect via Shorewood or SeaAcres which are not fiber connected, you might get 1.5mb/s, but in the evenings you might not be able to connect at all.

The cost for CL to connect the Shorewood and SeaAcres remotes with fiber is cost prohibitive given the number of customers in the area.

Getting internet via wireless from the mainland is challenging in the area due to the local hills and trees, as well as the fact that Lumi and Cypress islands block many from line of site to wireless alternatives in Bellingham and Anacortes.

Another wireless option for those in San Juan County is at the top of Mount Constitution on Orcas.  Unfortunately, the Doe Bay area does not have visibility to the towers on top of the mountain.  Any cell phone reception in the area comes from Anacortes or Bellingham.


Orcas Power and Light Company (OPALCO) provides power to the area, and over the last decade has undergrounded much of it’s transmission lines as well as lines to individual homes.  They have also put fiber in the ground in places so they can remote control the power grid from their offices in Eastsound.  They have also started to provide internet access to some over this fiber.  In February 2013 OPALCO proposed a hybrid fiber/LTE wireless system to provide high speed internet access to 90% of the county.  This service would have covered the Doe Bay area, but it was not supported by enough of the OPALCO membership for the initiative to move forward.

Currently, OPALCO has fiber to the Olga substation, and plans in the future to bring this fiber all the way out to SeaAcres, but the cost to do that is likely very high due to the way OPALCO puts it’s assets into the ground.

Century Link

In 2013 there were a number of major Century Link internet outages.  One happened during the Fourth of July weekend, and had a major impact on the Doe Bay Resort operations at the time.

Another happened in November 2013 due to a severed cable between San Juan and Lopez which affected the entire county, took out 911 service and took many days to fix.

After this outage, OPALCO decided to start building out their fiber assets more quickly, but did not decide to go back to their original hybrid plan that was not fully supported by it’s members.  Though OPALCO recently extended their fiber through Moran State Park to Olga, the Doe Bay area still looks a long way out on the horizon of OPALCO fiber upgrades.

Doe Bay Internet Users Association

In December 2013 a group of Doe Bay residents decided to look into the possibility of providing internet access to residents in the area as a member owned organization model, very much like the Doe Bay Water Users did 50+ years ago to provide water in the area.

Chris Sutton, Tony Simpson, Shawn Alexander, Tom Tillman and Chris Brems looked at a lot of different options.  The initial idea was to get an upstream internet connection from a microwave provider, and from there use DSL and public wireless equipment (5ghz, 900mhz) to deliver services to homes.

After further research it was decided to just do things via wireless and not waste time or money doing anything involving Century Link or end of life DSL technology.

The following, extremely hypothetical video was presented at the January 2014 DBCA potluck.


The feedback at the potluck was very positive and the founding members decided to move forward and build out the beginnings of the system.

First Steps

The founding members are working on the initial legal paperwork and bylaws, and filing with federal and state agencies.  Once that is done, they will be able to open a bank account, and then start initial build out.

Step 1 is to cut down trees just to the south of the Doe Bay water tank, which will give visibility to Mount Erie and enable the upstream internet connection.  This will also give visibility from the water tank to the Shorewood neighborhood as well as nearby Roehl’s Hill.

Step 2 is to install about $3,000 worth of equipment already purchased by the founders and create an initial backbone that will be able to service a few customers in Shorewood as well as Doe Bay Resort.

Initial estimates of membership connection costs are $250, and $100/month to cover upstream internet costs and payback of capital equipment costs.

Rough estimates of total capital equipment costs to service all areas of Doe Bay (including Pioneer Hill, Shorewood, Sea Area’s, and Eagle Lake) is $50,000.

We are researching various funding options from private loans to federal grants.

December 10, 2013

Doe Bay Internet Group Formed to Explore Alternative Service Options

With a shout of “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore,” five residents of the Doe Bay area have formed the Doe Bay Internet Users Association. Chris Sutton, Tony Simpson, Shawn Alexander, Tom Tillman and Chris Brems have created the new group to explore alternative internet service options for Doe Bay residents.

Doe Bay is at the end of the existing internet service line so residents receive only the service capacity that is left. “Think of it as a water hose,” explained Chris Sutton, spokesman for the group. “If you have two or three or four hoses connected to one line, the person at the far end receives only a trickle of water.”

Despite years of complaints by residents regarding speed and dropped service, there has been no effort made by CenturyLink, the current internet provider, to solve the core capacity problem. “CenturyLink has oversold its ability to serve the Doe Bay area,” said
Sutton. “Residents are paying for a service they don’t receive.”

Some residents report that they are often unable to access the internet between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Others report being online and then the connection is dropped, and they are unable to reconnect.

Washington State’s average internet speed is reported to be 8.51 mbps. An internet speed of 1.5 mbps is the fastest speed offered to Doe Bay residents, and residents report that even when they are able to log on, they seldom receive that speed.

“We’ve already started our explorations.” Sutton elaborated. “We have been in contact with OPALCO and also with an off-island service provider that uses microwave wireless. So far our initial research says – from both a technology and a cost standpoint – that it appears to be possible to accomplish our goal of offering Doe Bay residents a more reliable and faster internet service.”