Ellensburg, Washington, decided to pursue a fiber optic pilot project to serve local businesses almost a year ago, but they’ve encountered some bumps along the way. After revising the original plan and working with the state’s nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), it looks like they’ll be moving forward.
The Logical Progression
Back in 2013, Ellensburg realized that they could save significantly by ending service from Charter Communications and investing in a publicly owned institutional network (I-Net) to bring connectivity to municipal facilities. The positive results from the investment inspired them to take the next step and look into expanding their investment to infrastructure for businesses and residents. Early this year, they decided to start with a pilot program that would build off their I-Net to bring 30 businesses fiber connectivity, including a few home-based businesses and telecommuters.
Financial Slow Downs
The city received a grant from the Distressed County Sales and Use Tax Infrastructure Improvement Program to fund the project; the City Council dedicated the $169,560 grant to the project.
When they asked for bids from three contractors that are listed on their small works roster, none were interested. Next, they chose a firm to negotiate with but the first quote of $415,000 was well above their budget. Even after negotiating the price down to $315,000, the City Council was hard pressed on their next move.
In October, the city’s Utility Advisory Committee recommended they consider reducing the area to be served in the pilot project to reduce the cost of the deployment. They chose to let the bid expire.
The NoaNet Connection
In November, Ellensburg Director of Energy Services Larry Dunbar recommended that the city take advantage of an existing interlocal agreement with NoaNet in order to reduce the cost of the deployment. The agreement would allow NoaNet to use three dark fiber strands on Ellensburg’s network in exchange for 140 hours of engineering services to Ellensburg. The dark fiber, if leased to some other entity, could bring in $5,900 per year and the engineering services are valued at around $17,000. The City Council voted unanimously to act on the recommendation.
This isn’t the first time that NoaNet has worked with local communities interested in improving local commercial or residential connectivity. In 2016, the community of Anacortes took advantage of their design expertise as they started to develop their publicly owned fiber network. NoaNet’s been operating all across the state since 2000 and they’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. Community networks are notorious for acting in the public interest, such as sharing their knowledge with places like Anacortes and Ellensburg.
Dunbar also reviewed the new pilot service area. According to the Daily Record News:
The new area, which covers between Second and Fifth avenues, and Pearl and Main streets, is smaller than the originally proposed project area and would include approximately 50 businesses. Of those businesses, five have already expressed interested in the project. These businesses will need to re-submit applications to the project due to the changes that have occurred.
Twenty-five of the original 30 businesses that had applied to participate in the pilot are no longer in the planned service area. The Utility Advisory Committee plans to offer an updated timeline for the project at the next meeting scheduled for December 21st.