DIY Internet: How Orca Island, WA, became their own provider.

Ars Technica has an inspirational story of some folks who decided they could do a better job than their “professional” ISP:

Around that time, CenturyLink service went out for 10 days, a problem caused by a severed underwater fiber cable. Outages lasting a day or two were also common, [Chris] Sutton said.

Faced with a local ISP that couldn’t provide modern broadband, Orcas Island residents designed their own network and built it themselves. The nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), founded by Sutton, Brems, and a few friends, now provide Internet service to a portion of the island. It’s a wireless network with radios installed on trees and houses in the Doe Bay portion of Orcas Island. Those radios get signals from radios on top of a water tower, which in turn receive a signal from a microwave tower across the water in Mount Vernon, Washington.

“I think people were leery whether we could be able to actually do it, seeing as nobody else could get better Internet out here,” Sutton said.

CenturyLink service would go out for a couple of days until the company sent someone out to fix it, Sutton said. But since equipping the island with DBIUA’s wireless Internet, outages have been less frequent and “there are times we’re doing 30Mbps down and 40Mbps up,” Brems said. “It’s never been below 20 or 25 unless we had a problem.”

Unlike many satellite and cellular networks, there is no monthly data cap for DBIUA users.

Sutton, a software developer who has experience in server and network management, says he’s amazed how rare projects like DBIUA are, claiming “it wasn’t that hard.”

The DBIUA paid StarTouch Broadband Services about $11,000 to supply a microwave link from a tower on the mainland to a radio on top of Doe Bay’s water tower. The water tank, at about 50 feet, is the only structure that’s high enough to create a point-to-point link to the mainland. It is owned by the Doe Bay Water Users Association, which let DBIUA install the radios and other equipment.

Sutton and friends set up Ubiquiti radios throughout the area, on trees and on top of people’s houses, to get people online. Sutton used Google Earth to map out the paths over which wireless signals would travel, and then the team conducted on-the-ground surveys to determine whether one point could reach another.

Most homes in the network have a radio on the roof or the side of the house that points to one of about 10 relay points, which have multiple radios for receiving and distributing signals. Relay points themselves can be on a tree, a pole, or on the side of a house.

“For some people, like me, the signal comes to my tree, and then down into my house to service me,” Sutton said.

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