Tag: "public utility district"

Posted October 5, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Following hundreds of requests from community members urging the local Public Utility District (PUD) to address the lack of Internet access in Lewis County, Washington, the Lewis County PUD is answering the call with a proposal to construct an open access countywide fiber-to-the-home network and a relentless pursuit of broadband construction grant opportunities on behalf of its 33,000 members.

The plan to construct the 110-mile-long fiber backbone – anticipated to cost between $110 and $130 million to build – is months in the making. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the PUD has applied for over $30 million of state and federal broadband grants. 

In August of 2020, the PUD applied for a $5.5 million grant through the Washington State Public Works Board to provide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services to residents of four communities in the western region of the county – “from west Chehalis to Adna and Pe Ell along Highway 6, and down through the Boistfort Valley,” according to the PUD’s website

When that grant application was not awarded, the PUD turned to the USDA’s Community Connect program to propose a smaller project that would serve three of the four aforementioned communities. The USDA is expected to announce those grant recipients soon. 

Lewis County PUD’s most recent attempt to access funding for the project was in May of 2021, when the PUD’s Commissioners requested that Lewis County Commissioners reserve $1 million of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the countywide broadband project. The PUD, hopeful that county officials will honor the request, is...

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Posted May 14, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Update: State Governor Jay Inslee signing two bills amending the same section of state law at the exact same time forced the Washington Secretary of State to seek judicial guidance on which bill will take precedence over the other in the face of legal challenge. It is still unclear if the two bills are compatible; however, in these instances the bills should be filed in the order in which they passed the State Legislature, with the bill filed last taking legal precedence. The Public Broadband Act passed the State Legislature one day after S.B. 5383; therefore, the Public Broadband Act should prevail over the Senate bill (S.B. 5383).

Yesterday, following weeks of anticipation, State Gov. Jay Islee signed the Public Broadband Act (H.B. 1336), removing all restrictions on public broadband in the state of Washington, according to the bill’s primary sponsor, State Rep. Drew Hansen, D-23. This critical leap forward in Washington drops the number of states with laws restricting community broadband to 17.  

Rep. Hansen’s tweet announcing the passage of H.B. 1336:

The bill grants public entities previously restricted by statute from offering retail telecommunications services the unrestricted authority to provide Internet services to end-users. This includes Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and district ports, as well as, towns, second-class cities (defined as those with populations of 1500 or more which have not adopted a city charter) and counties, currently not operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code. (Washington’s charter counties, first-class cities...

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Posted April 27, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Washington Governor pledges to sign Public Broadband Act

Maine hearing will reveal State Legislature’s willingness to introduce competition to incumbent ISPs

California bill amended to remove bond initiative backing public infrastructure projects of local communities 

The State Scene

Washington

Two pieces of legislation aimed at expanding public broadband authority, H.B. 1336 and S.B. 5383, have been delivered to Washington Gov. Jay Islee to consider signing into law. Rep. Drew Hansen, the primary sponsor of H.B. 1336 recently told GeekWire that he “expects the governor to sign both.”

H.B. 1336 would give Washington’s cities, towns, counties, district ports and Public Utility Districts (PUDs) unrestricted authority to provide Internet services directly to end-users, while S.B. 5383, as a result of a series of amendments, deals largely with what information PUDs and ports have to provide to the state broadband office before offering service in unserved regions. 

There will be a meeting between the governor and the sponsors of the two bills on Thursday, which will likely determine their fate. Although arguments about how the two bills will interplay are continuing throughout the halls of the State Legislature in Olympia, the prevailing legal interpretation is that the finalized versions of the bills do not conflict. If both bills are signed, and discrepancies are later discovered to be an issue, it will prompt the State Legislature to convene in the future to standardize differences between the legislation. 

Provisions previously included in S.B. 5383 clashed with the objective of H.B. 1336. Before S.B. 5383 was amended, it included a challenge process that gave existing broadband service providers...

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Posted April 12, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Though voting was highly conflicted and debates lasted late into Sunday night, H.B. 1336, an act granting public entities unrestricted authority to provide telecommunications and Internet services to end-users, scraped through the Washington State Senate by a vote of 27-22 on April 11. 

If State Governor Jay Islee signs H.B. 1336, Washington will have removed its barriers to municipal networks, leaving just 17 states with deliberate barriers to local Internet choice. “We’re fired up around here,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-23, in an interview. “What a huge deal this is. It undoes 20 years of bad state policies which restricted local governments from offering broadband.”

Washington’s charter counties, first-class cities, and cities operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code already have the power to construct telecommunications networks and offer Internet access services to their residents without third-party business overseeing network management operations.

Hansen’s bill would give this authority to the public entities currently restricted by statute from offering retail services. This includes Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and district ports, as well as, towns, second-class cities (defined as those with populations of 1500 or more which have not adopted a city charter) and counties currently not operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code. 

Hansen said this about the development:

BREAKING: Wash. Senate just passed my Public Broadband Act (HB1336). Thanks to the parents, teachers, students, public utility districts, tribes, activists, 1000+ people signing in support (!) and more. WE did this; amazing team effort. Public Broadband Now!!!

Washington broadband activists are rallying behind H.B. 1336, as the bill is sure to introduce innovative, community-based Internet access solutions across a state whose rural inhabitants largely have one cable provider...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

This week’s community broadband state legislative roundup revisits and provides updates on important bills moving through the state legislatures in Washington, Oklahoma, and California.  

The State Scene 

Washington 

We’ve been closely covering S.B. 5383 and H.B. 1336, two bills in Washington state that would give Public Utilities Districts (PUDs) and port districts the authority to offer retail telecommunications services.

Our initial coverage pointed out shortcomings in S.B. 5383. The bill originally contained a preemption clause that gave private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to reject PUDs’ and ports’ project proposals in areas where incumbent ISPs claim they plan to expand service within six months. 

Since our last reporting on this piece of legislation, the bill was amended by the State House Community and Economic Development Committee, removing the veto authority initially given to existing ISPs. However, a new provision favoring incumbent cable ISPs was also added, which would prohibit a PUD or port from providing retail Internet services in an area where an existing provider offers service at a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. The minimum speed requirements of this provision would be increased to stay consistent with Washington’s state definition of broadband.

The Committee also amended the bill to allow PUDs and ports to provide retail services in served areas, but only when building to reach an unserved region. 

H.B. 1336, which aims to allow PUDs, ports, cities, towns, and counties to provide Internet access services on a retail basis, was amended by Washington’s Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on March 25 to increase the requirements that must be met by counties, cities, and towns before they...

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Posted March 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

A California ballot initiative would empower voters to build their own Internet access solutions.

The Oklahoma House sends seven broadband bills to Senate.

New York and North Carolina initiate statewide digital inclusion programs.

Virginia is second state to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. 

See the bottom of this post for some broadband-related job openings. 

The State Scene 

California Legislation Could Lead To Massive Investments in Public Broadband

As lawmakers in the Golden State look to rectify a reputation of having one of the highest student populations without Internet connectivity, bills aiming to expand access to 98 percent of California households by increasing investments in public broadband infrastructure were launched early in California’s legislative session.

Though there are several other bills pertaining to broadband that have been introduced in Sacramento, we focus on these four because, if passed, they would have the biggest impact on municipal networks.

S.B. 4, sponsored by State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-33, would create a new state-backed bond program, enabling local governments to finance more than $1 billion in public infrastructure projects through bond issuances. The low-interest debt for the projects could be repaid over multiple decades. 

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently reported, “California’s current law (known as the California Advanced Services Fund or CASF) has failed to meet the digital divide challenge. It discriminates against local community bidders to build broadband infrastructure, favors spending state money on slow...

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Posted March 10, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Though Washington is home to one of the nation’s fastest growing tech hubs, many communities throughout the state lack adequate broadband infrastructure. The stark divide between those Washingtonians with reliable home broadband connections, and those without, became especially relevant last year, when many were forced to rely on their home Internet access for work, school, health, socialization, and much more. 

A year into the pandemic, it seems lawmakers in Olympia are finally waking up to the connectivity issues currently plaguing the state. In January, bills aiming to advance broadband connectivity by allowing public entities to participate in the retail broadband market were presented in the House and Senate of the Washington State Legislature. The two bills have both cleared their respective chambers, and are waiting to be heard in committees of the opposite legislative chamber.

Discussions surrounding the two bills will continue on March 11th, when Washington’s Senate Energy Committee is set to hold a hearing for House Bill 1336, one of two bills being considered (the other is Senate Bill 5383).

Both bills aim to grant public entities, such as Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and ports, the authority to operate as Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Currently PUDs and ports can build broadband networks but must offer wholesale access to private ISPs, and are prohibited from offering direct retail services to residents and businesses. The bills being considered now would allow them to deliver Internet access to Washington residents without a charter or third-party business overseeing network management operations.

While the bills are similar, they possess important differences. At the heart of the dispute between the two proposed laws is a preemption clause included in Senate Bill 5383, sponsored by State Sen. Lisa Wellman. 

Wellman's bill gives incredible veto power to private, incumbent ISPs. SB 5383 would change existing state laws to allow PUDs and ports to offer broadband service directly to residents only if they do not “receive notice from the governor's statewide broadband office that an existing...

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Posted March 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Idaho is better known for producing potatoes than the state of Washington. But actually, it’s the 2,800 square miles (an area about twice the size of Rhode Island) within Grant County in central Washington that grows more spuds per acre than any county in the United States.

As you might expect, the Grant County Public Utility District (PUD) has a long history of supporting the region’s potato farmers. But for the past 20 years, the county-owned utility has been planting more than potatoes in the fertile soil of the Evergreen State, the benefits of which are being enjoyed by county residents on and off the farm.

Building a Fiber Foundation

In early 2000, Grant County PUD built an open access fiber optic network, allowing multiple local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to compete in delivering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to the county’s 97,700 residents. After investing $182 million to bring high-performance Internet connectivity to 75% of the county, over the past several years the utility has been working to expand the network to cover the remaining 25% into the most rural parts of the Grant County PUD service area.

Using utility revenues to finance the network expansion, County Commissioners did not initially commit to a specific timeline, opting instead to allocate funding annually based on the financial condition of the fiber business and the utility as a whole. But with revenues on the rise (up 11% in 2017), the PUD pushed forward, allocating $18.4 million in 2019 to advance the project. Local officials have estimated the total cost to expand the network into all unserved areas to be $70.2 million, with a completion goal of 2023. When the project is complete, over 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable will have been installed...

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Posted January 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In our year-end roundup and prediction show on the Community Broadband Bits podcast last month, the more optimistic members of the team predicted that 2021 would see some states remove barriers to municipal broadband. 

It looks like in a few places momentum might be headed in that direction. Last week we wrote about a bill in Arkansas that would remove almost all barriers in the state, allowing political subdivisions and consolidated utility districts to pursue projects on their own and without external grants. 

New legislation in Washington looks similarly promising. On Thursday, January 21st, House Bill 1336 was introduced [pdf], removing specific barriers which currently prevent Public Utility Districts (PUDs) from delivering broadband service on a retail basis. Currently, PUDs are only able to offer unrestricted broadband on a wholesale basis through a dark fiber or open access network. Under certain conditions PUDs can offer retail service, but only if an existing Internet Service Provider (ISP) leasing that PUD infrastructure ceases operations, and even then, they are only allowed to do so as long as no other private ISP steps up to offer retail service. In the interim, PUDs can provide service for a maximum of five months and must, within thirty days, begin the process of finding a replacement.

The new law removes that barrier, and not only allows PUDs to construct and operate retail broadband networks inside their existing territory, but outside as well. In addition, it establishes that PUDs can work with federally recognized tribes to construct infrastructure. 

Bipartisan Approach

The co-sponsors of the bill have staked out different rationales for removing the restrictions, with Drew Hansen calling for broadband to operate as a public utility and Alex Ybarra more concerned with the unconnected pockets of Washingtonians left by the private ISPs. Bill co-sponsor Alex Ybarra told the Washington State Wire:

We knew prior to...

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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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