Tag: "public utility district"

Posted May 21, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As the novel coronavirus has spread across the United States, so too have efforts to bring Internet access to digitally disconnected households during a time of nationwide social distancing. Washington and Massachusetts are on different coasts, but both states are working with publicly owned broadband networks to deploy emergency Wi-Fi hotspots in underserved communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Washington, a state-led initiative is deploying hundreds of new Wi-Fi access points with the help of community networks, including Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), a statewide middle-mile network, and several Public Utility Districts (PUDs). And on the other side of the country, Massachusetts has enlisted the help of municipal network Whip City Fiber to establish Wi-Fi hotspots in communities with poor connectivity.

The drive-up public hotspots will allow residents of both states to complete online school assignments, apply for unemployment insurance, and connect with healthcare providers, among other essential tasks.

“We’ve all been in a position where we understand to connect to the world during this really challenging time, Wi-Fi is essential,” said Dr. Lisa Brown, Director of the Washington Department of Commerce, during a livestreamed launch of the state Wi-Fi initiative.

Washington Partners with PUDs for Wi-Fi

The initiative in Washington is being led by the Washington State Broadband Office and the Department of Commerce in partnership with NoaNet, regional PUDs, the Washington Independent Telecommunications Association, Washington Technology Solutions, Washington State University, and others. In addition to the existing Wi-Fi hotspots that schools and libraries have made accessible from their parking lots, the partners plan to set up more than 300 new access points in underserved areas, using state funding and philanthropic donations. A map of all public Wi-Fi locations is...

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Posted January 8, 2020 by Sayidali Moalim

Grays Harbor Public Utility District (PUD) recently received a $50,000 Washington state grant to conduct a feasibility study in order to determine the best route for expansion of their open access broadband infrastructure into Oakville and the Chehalis Indian Reservation. Both areas are considered underserved and some areas in the region have no Internet service available to residents or businesses.

The Reasons Are There

The Commerce Department’s Public Works Board awarded the $50,000 grant and eight other grants for eight other feasibility studies around the state. The funds will likely pay for the entire study and, according to director of PUD Core Service Rod Hanny, will determine the best route for a fiber line and identify "right-of-way issues, permitting requirements, construction costs, and whether the project would fit the needs of the communities and the utility itself."

Officials at the PUD say that they've received many requests from residents and businesses in the area to establish fiber infrastructure for Internet access. The PUD also wants to put fiber in place in order to improve other utility operations. Currently a substation in the area is monitored via satellite and a fiber connection would be create a more reliable method of communication. If the feasibility study reveals that a project would be a beneficial investment for the region, the project would take roughly a year to complete.

Washington ports are now allowed to develop and use fiber optic infrastructure both within and beyond their geographic borders. Prior to 2018 ports were prohibited from offering wholesale services outside their borders. After HB 2662 unanimously passed, places such as the Port of Ridgefield...

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Posted November 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

Open access networks offer opportunities for competition and innovation that networks owned and operated by one entity can’t provide. We've written about open access networks owned, operated, and funded by public entities; now private investors are increasingly attracted to these competitive, fiber optic environments.

Changing Paradigm

Over time, American Internet access subscribers have become accustomed to the idea that options are limited because large, corporate Internet access providers have positioned themselves so as not to compete with one other. In areas where local communities have deployed open access models, such as in Ammon, Idaho, or in places with regional open access networks, like UTOPIA Fiber in Utah and the many Public Utility District networks (PUDs) in the state of Washington, those connecting to the network have benefitted from ISP choice and access to high-quality connectivity.

In Europe and Asia, open access models appear more regularly, but in the U.S., the open access arrangement has primarily been adopted by local governments offering wholesale service to ISPs. Often they do so as a way to comport with state law. In the past few years, however, private companies and investment firms have seen the potential of open access fiber optic infrastructure in the U.S. For example, SiFi Networks announced a project in Fullerton, California, earlier this year with plans to establish similar infrastructure projects in other communities.

We recently touched base with Kelly Ryan, CEO of iFiber Communications, an Internet service provider that operates via open access networks owned and operated by PUDs in Washington. We also talked with James Wagar, Managing Director of Thomas Capital Group, who has eyes on open access fiber optic network projects.

The Finance Piece

James notes that in recent years, privately funded open access networks...

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Posted July 23, 2019 by htrostle

Grays Harbor County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington state has just finished a fiber optic network to local schools and a local industrial park. The county has been strapped for Internet access, and this network is the first step in developing better connectivity to many of the homes and businesses along the route. Elected officials are also exploring new ways to encourage last mile connectivity.

The Need for Internet Access

The options for high-speed Internet access are limited in Grays Harbor County, Washington. About 74,000 people live in there, and about 78 percent of the population reports having some form of Internet access at home, but it's likely those that live in the rural areas don't have access to "broadband" as defined as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload) that meets certain other technical standards. While satellite Internet access continues to improve, satellite connectivity is still expensive, unreliable, and describing it as "broadband" is a stretch.

The FCC's data paints the situation in Grays Harbor County as similar to other areas where those living in rural areas have poor or no Internet access and many within small- or medium-sized towns have little or no choice. About 13 percent of the population have no access to broadband, and another 53 percent live under broadband monopoly. This means there is only a single provider for those people. Approximately 27 percent have a choice, but it is limited to two providers and typically between competing technologies, such as cable and DSL.

logo-grays-harbor-PUD.jpg The numbers are even starker for rural areas and tribal lands: 29 percent of premises have no access...

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Posted June 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Washington's Douglas County Community Network (DCCN) began as a way to improve the local Public Utility District’s electric system; construction of the network started in the late 1990s. Two decades later, people living in some of the state's smallest communities have access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity that equals their neighbors in the county's busy cities through the publicly owned fiber network.

Restrictions Didn't Stop Douglas County PUD

Due to Washington state restrictions, the Douglas County Public Utility District (DCPUD) and other PUDs cannot offer telecommunications services directly to the general public; they can only provide wholesale service. In Douglas County, private providers deliver Internet access, voice, and video to subscribers in both rural communities and more densely populated areas. Six different providers offer a range of services via the open access network. The DCPUD also offers other services, including dark fiber, that businesses find useful and has invested in a carrier grade colocation facility in East Wenatchee.

The concept for the DCCN came about when the utility was searching for a way to upgrade their existing microwave system that they used for power control. With microwave, they would only have the ability to connect point A to point B, but with fiber, the DCPUD could connect points between substations. Around this same time, leaders at the DCPUD were learning of the growing interest in excess capacity from municipal electric utility fiber optic networks for broadband. At the time, communities that knew they would not be served by the large corporate ISPs were those investing in fiber infrastructure. 

logo-dcpud.png “That was us,” says DCCN Coordinator Ben Carter. “They were telling us that they weren’t going to roll broadband out … Obviously, the business decision makes itself.” Rather than bringing a new service to a place where the largest population center was only around 12,000 in 2000, corporate Internet access companies were aiming for large cities such as Seattle and Portland.

Instead of installing the microwave upgrade, the...

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Posted December 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

At their November 27th meeting, Commissioners from the Grant County Public Utility District (Grant PUD) in Washington approved the funds to complete countywide fiber optic deployment. They’ve decided to dedicate an additional $12.6 million in new funding toward infrastructure to speed up the project. The total 2019 fiber budget is now set for $18.4 million to pay for expansion, maintenance and operation, and new customer connections.

According to Wholesale Fiber senior co-manager Russ Brethower, Grant PUD will have a more accurate and detailed timeline calculated in the spring. Approximately 30 percent of Grant County residents have yet to be connected to the network. While some communities have partial connectivity, there are still a few with no connections to the fiber and the new accelerated plan aims to change that.

Big Ambition for A Big County

With approximately 3,000 square miles, connecting the entire county is no small feat. Grant County, known for its large potato farms, contains expansive tracts of rural areas and several dense population centers. Add in the fact that soil varies from rock to easily plowed soil, and the Grant PUD has faced an extensive education in all manners of deploying fiber.

Christopher talked with Brethower for episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast about the network and the start of Grant PUD's efforts in 2000. Brethower discussed the fact that the county is an ideal place for data centers, as companies are encouraged by inexpensive real estate, the climate, low electric rates, and the fiber network.

Brethower also described how connecting the remaining residents and businesses in the county has become a priority for the Grant PUD and that their open access network, as required by state law, has attracted two dozen service providers.

With the additional funding for 2019, the Grant PUD will reduce the original deployment goal from 10 years to five.

Listen to the November 2017 interview with Russ Brethower here to learn more about the story behind Grant PUD’s fiber network:

...

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Posted July 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

When we spoke with Justin Holzgrove, Mason PUD 3 Telecommunications & Community Relations Manager, back in October 2017, we discussed how the public utility district in Washington was about to embark on expanding its services. This week, Justin is back and he’s joined by Isak Finer, who works as Chief Marketing Officer for COS Systems. The company is helping Mason PUD 3 develop strategic deployment plan with COS Service Zones, their demand aggregation tool.

In this interview, we learn about the decision to expand the use of the fiber infrastructure from electric utility support purposes to residential and business connectivity. As Justin describes, the county is filled with many small, rural communities. Traditional, large ISPs don’t typically find much motivation to serve these low density areas. Large numbers of electric customers let PUD officials know that they needed better Internet access and they wanted Mason County PUD 3 to supply the infrastructure. 

In order to determine the best way to implement their build out, the PUD engaged COS Systems, a firm with a decade of experience in deployment planning, especially in large, rural areas. Isak gives us background on the company and their software that helps communities, such as Mason County PUD 3, take a thoughtful approach toward deployment to maximize opportunities and move toward success.

Christopher, Isak, and Justin also consider the meaning of “open access” and how that meaning changes depending on location. As technology improves, innovators find new ways to use open access infrastructure that push the limits of what we’ve seen up to now.

Read the transcript of the show here.

Listen to episode 274 of the podcast for our earlier conversation with Justin.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice ...

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Posted March 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

When the folks in Kitsap County, Washington’s Lookout Lane neighborhood banded together and used a Local Utility District (LUD) to get better connectivity, they were thinking about their own homes, not about setting a precedent. A little over a year later, other groups of neighbors are following their lead.

Sick Of Slow Connections

The Lookout Lane community formed their LUD and worked with the Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD) to expand its open access network to their neighborhood because they were stuck with slow CenturyLink DSL. Residents didn’t feel that they were getting what they were paying for at $60 per month and 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) on average download speed. Now they have options up to 1 gigabit symmetrical via the publicly owned open access network.

Forest Ridge Estates, which is adjacent to Lookout Lane, has formed an LUD and is already connected to fiber installed by KPUD, according to Angela Bennick from the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet). Bennick says that there are two other neighborhoods that are considering a similar approach. KPUD is a member of NoaNet, whose open access fiber infrastructure connects that of other public utility districts across the state so people, businesses, and institutions in Washington can have high-quality connectivity.

Property owners pay for the connections themselves, but can pay off the cost upfront, over a 20-year period, or a combination of the two. Connections were from $10,000 - $14,000 in Lookout Lane, but depend on a variety of factors; property owners usually consider the investment an added value to their home. In order to establish an LUD, a neighborhood needs a majority of homeowners to sign a petition to establish the LUD.

We spoke with General Manager Bob Hunter and Superintendent of Telecom Paul Avis last year about the network and the Lookout Lane LUD during episode 237 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. They explained how the LUD process works and how folks in the KPUD service area are...

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Posted December 4, 2017 by Staff

This is episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Russ Brethrower, a project specialist at Grant County Public Utility District, discusses how Grant County, Washington, pioneered open access infrastructure in the United States. Listen to this episode here.

Russ Brethrower: Our commission, management, everybody's made it really clear. Our capital is an investment in the future of the county up and down the food chain. It's -- it's a given that it's an investment and the capital is not expected to be returned.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for local self-reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher recently attended the broadband community's economic development conference. He attends every fall and if he's lucky he's able to record interviews with people from some of the communities we're curious about. He also makes the trip to each Broadband Community Summit the spring time event. While he was at the November event in Atlanta, he connected with several people including this week's guest Russ Brethrower from the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington Grant County PUD has one of the most established and geographically largest open access community networks in the US. The rural communities population is sparse and widely distributed but community leaders had an eye toward the future when they decided to invest in fiber infrastructure. In this interview, Russ shares the story of their network and describe some of their challenges. Here's Christopher with Russ Brethrower from the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today I'm in Atlanta sitting on the runway of the Atlanta airport at the Broadband Communities Summit which is focused on economic development here. And today I'm talking to Russ Brethrower Project Specialist for Grant County Public Utility District in Washington. Welcome to the show. Thank you very much Chris. So Russ I've been trying to get you on for a long time. You are one you're coming from one of the communities that has the oldest municipal...

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Posted November 15, 2017 by christopher

Grant County's Public Utility District was, along with some nearby PUDs, among the very first deployers of Fiber-to-the-Home networks shortly after the turn of the millennium. And per Washington's law, they built an open access network that today has more than twenty service providers.

Grant County PUD Project Specialist Russ Brethrower joins us for Community Broadband Bits podcast 279, a live interview from the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta

We discuss the history of the network and other observations from Russ, who has more direct experience in these networks than the vast majority of us that regularly speculate on them. We also talk about the experiences of open access over 16 years and how they financed the network. 

Read the transcript for this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

logo-community-bb-bits_small.png This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Image of Deep Lake in Grant County © Steven Pavlov / http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Senapa,...

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