PUD Awarded Broadband Planning Grant

On September 20th, the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) awarded Jefferson County PUD $50,000 to conduct a county-wide strategic plan for the expansion of broadband infrastructure.

According to PUD General Manager Larry Dunbar, planning will take place in the first half of 2019. Dunbar expects the PUD will involve members of other local government agencies, business groups, community organizations, and citizens to inform the process.

The PUD’s first priority in the strategic planning process, according to Dunbar, is to map out an expansion its current fiber infrastructure to connect all of our existing assets. “As we plot those maps, we’ll be able to see where our fiber can be leveraged to connect existing clusters of businesses or residents. Or we’ll see how we might be able to route a potential fiber installation differently to connect to a cluster. And then we’ll explore funding options for making those connections.”

Dunbar cautioned Jefferson County residents not to get too excited about the PUD bringing high speed internet to every home anytime soon. “The PUD has no retail authority, which means it is illegal for us to provide any resident or business with internet service. What we can do is build infrastructure. To date over 45 miles of fiber installed across the county.”

District 2 Commissioner Ken Collins of Marrowstone Island brought the grant opportunity to Dunbar in June after attending a workshop put on by CERB in Sequim. Collins has been leading the charge for the PUD to increase access to broadband internet since his election in 2014. This October, Collins will work with Dunbar and members of the PUD’s Citizen Advisory Board to draft criteria for the selection of a contractor to facilitate the creation of the plan.

“Too many members of this county lack access to internet, high speed or otherwise,” said Collins. “The PUD can’t solve the problem completely on its own, but if we can come together with other local agencies and stakeholders to explore solutions collectively, we can do a lot. I’m proud of our staff for pursuing this grant and I’m grateful to the legislature for making the funding available.”

The CERB board approved $2,816,649 in loans and grants for public infrastructure to provide high speed,open-access broadband service; and $150,000 in grants for economic feasibility studies targeting business growth and job creation in Jefferson County PUD#1, the City of Goldendale, Mason County PUD #3, the Port of Skagit County, the Town of Darrington, and the Port of Whitman County.