The city of Anacortes in Skagit County is making internet a public utility in an unexpected way -- running fiber optic cables through water pipes.
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The city of Anacortes in Skagit County is making internet a public utility in an unexpected way -- running fiber optic cables through water pipes.
Credit: Courtesy of the city of Anacortes

Wifi wires will run through water pipes in northern Washington town

Starting next month, people in Anacortes can get something unusual in their drinking water: the internet.

A normally busy sidewalk on Seattle’s University Way Northeast has been cordoned off for an all-too-common reason: the concrete is being torn up to put in new fiber optic cable.

An hour north, the seaside town of Anacortes has found a way to avoid all that disruption: fiber optics cables in existing water pipes.

The city of Anacortes in Skagit County is making internet a public utility in an unexpected way -- running fiber optic cables through water pipes.
Enlarge Icon
The city of Anacortes in Skagit County is making internet a public utility in an unexpected way -- running fiber optic cables through water pipes.
Credit: Courtesy of the city of Anacortes

Sitting inside Anacortes’ main water pipe is a skinny plastic tube, like a drinking straw inside a glass of water.

“We have inserted a fiber optics cable inside of live water lines all the way from Mount Vernon to Anacortes," said Fred Buckenmeyer, who runs the city's public works department. "First in North America.”

Buckenmeyer said this internet tube is made of the same plastic as the water pipe it sits inside.

“Like having a water pipe inside a water pipe,” he said. “No chance of contamination or anything like that.”

Buckenmeyer said the utility had lots of leftover capacity after installing a fiber-optic system for monitoring the various pumping stations along its water system. He said this novel approach cost less than the alternative: digging under the Skagit River, the Swinomish Slough and 15 miles of farms, wetlands, streets and sidewalks along the way.

City officials say they hope to entice customers away from Comcast with locally owned and cheaper internet service.

Project manager Jim Lemberg said if municipal broadband can capture a third of the Anacortes market for internet service, the project will pay for itself in 15 years.