Redundant Qwest fiber optic line expected by November

Fiber optic communications for most Clallam County residents, including those in Sequim, should be protected from outages beginning next month.

That's when Qwest Communications expects to turn on its recently completed redundant fiber optic line along the west side of Hood Canal.

The new line will provide a second, better protected route for long distance, Internet and cell phone traffic off the North Olympic Peninsula if the existing Qwest line through Port Hadlock is severed.

But the new line only will serve areas east of Joyce, leaving West End communities such as Beaver, Forks, Clallam Bay, Neah Bay and La Push still without a redundant fiber optic link.

Qwest's original fiber optic line runs from Sequim along Discovery Bay into Jefferson County, through Port Ludlow - where it is severed by a falling tree virtually every year - and then across Hood Canal.

Qwest won't release the path of the redundant fiber optic line but if it follows the Bonneville Power Administration's right of way - which is wider with fewer trees - the line would travel from the substation at Peninsula College in Port Angeles through Happy Valley and down to Olympia.

Qwest spokesman Bob Gravely said that second line will provide full redundancy to Sequim, Port Angeles, Port Ludlow and anywhere else along that line.

"If there's a break, the traffic reverses itself and comes back on the backup line. The customers should never know, although it will take a little time to get the traffic switched over," he said.

If the original Qwest fiber optic line is severed, then half of its traffic would be routed through Port Angeles and half through Forks and Joyce in the other direction, Gravely said.

Gravely said the redundancy will apply to everything served by the fiber optic line, including Qwest's high-speed Internet and long distance and every cell phone provider in the area.

But the redundancy won't apply to those areas served by CenturyTel located west of Joyce, he said.

"We are continuing to work with CenturyTel on that," Gravely said.

Qwest decided to build its own fiber optic line around Hood Canal because it couldn't reach an agreement with CenturyTel of Washington and Oregon to use the existing redundant line that closed the "Sappho Gap."

The Sappho Gap is a 26-mile missing link between broadband communication networks on Clallam County's east and west sides.

On the east side, Qwest installed an 85-mile fiber optic line from Silverdale to Joyce in October 2000. On the west side, CenturyTel installed a fiber optic trunk from Aberdeen to Forks in January 2001.

But the two networks never were connected, meaning fiber optic network traffic couldn't be switched to one line if the other was blocked or severed. It came to be known as the "Sappho Gap."

The state's Community Economic Revitalization Board approved $1.7 million in April 2001 for installation of a fiber-optic cable to fill the gap. The money came from a $200 million settlement in August 2000 of a four-year court case filed by the state of Washington regarding telephone rates charged by US West, Qwest's predecessor.

In addition to the $1.7 million in settlement money, a 2000 project budget listed another $700,000 from CenturyTel and $6,000 in other private and public funds.

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