The central Washington community of Coulee Dam took a significant step this month to establishing its own fiber optic network. At a December 27th special city council meeting, they announced that they had purchased one mile of fiber optic cable and equipment from Basin Broadband, LLC, for $34,995.
According to The Star, the former owners had only one customer and used the infrastructure to connect the local school district’s offices with the school on the opposite side of town. The district pays $170 per month to lease the line and their agreement expires in 2020; the city promised to honor the agreement.
Community leaders have considered the prospect of starting a publicly owned fiber optic network for at least 16 months, when they began seeking out the owner of the infrastructure. The city’s population is only approximately 1,100 people, which means national incumbents have little interest in providing high-quality connectivity. CenturyLink offers DSL for residential and business service, but town leaders want to improve economic development possibilities with fiber.
This past summer, the city council began discussing changing the community’s legal designation in order to step out from under Washington’s restrictive laws that govern the authority of “towns.” City Attorney Mick Howe advised that if the city changed its charter to operate as a “non-charter code city,” they would have more authority. Rather than acting only on specifically allowed activities in state law, they could act as long as they were not engaging in specifically forbidden activities as spelled out in state law.
Councilmember Keith St. Jeor said he knows people who settled in other towns because they have Internet service that is “100 times better.”
Councilmember Schmidt said the town is severely lacking in technology solutions and that they were not likely to come from private enterprise because of the small population. Changing to a code city would simply allow the municipality to explore more options.
“You might be surprised what solutions you find when you have more opportunities,” he said, in favor of starting the process.
City council members determined that the change would allow Coulee Dam to explore the options for better connectivity and decided to hold public meetings on the topic. In October, the proposal passed unanimously.
The community fo Coulee Dam straddles the three counties of Grant, Douglas, and Okanogan in central Washington. It was established in 1933 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to serve as a headquarters when the Bureau constructed the Grand Coulee Dam. It was two separate sections -- Engineers Town in Douglas and Grant Counties and Mason City in Okanogan County -- until 1959. By 1959, after all sections had been transferred to the public and the dam was completed, the community was incorporated into the town of Coulee Dam. Grant County PUD provides electricity to the city. The Okanogan portion of the city lies within the Colville Indian Reservation, and the Douglas County area of the city is part of the Wenatchee-East Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area.