Fed up with years of bad internet service, a small community of islanders built their own network from scratch

Doing it for themselves.
Doing it for themselves.
Image: AP/Carey J. Williams
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Frustrated with slow internet service and frequent outages? A rural community in Washington state was—enough so that residents decided to take matters into their owns hands.

A group of neighbors on Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Islands, rebelled against local internet service provider CenturyLink in 2013 after experiencing regular outages, including one lasting 10 days, Ars Technica reported. Instead of continuing to pay for spotty service, they built their own service instead—a “community-owned” wireless network that claims to offer the fastest internet speeds on the island.

The grassroots effort, led by software developer Chris Sutton, used radios installed on trees, houses, and a water tower in the island’s Doe Bay community to bring service to the island (which has a population of roughly 5,000) from a microwave tower in nearby Mount Vernon, Washington. Dubbed the Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), the network went live in 2014. According to Ars Technica, it now services about 50 homes.

The service currently costs $75 a month with no cap on usage, according to DBIUA’s website. Users also have to pay a $150 refundable DBIUA membership fee as well as equipment fees estimated at around $125. The startup says on its site that it plans to reduce monthly service costs to $50 or $60 in a few years, after it pays back the $25,000 loan used to get the service up and running.