Tag: "public utility district"

Posted March 25, 2022 by Karl Bode

Jefferson County, Washington’s Public Utility District (PUD) is just the latest to take advantage of a flood of new grants — and recently-eliminated restrictions on community broadband — to expand access to affordable fiber across the state.  

Over the last few months, the PUD - situated northwest of Seattle, just across the Puget Sound - has been awarded more than $11 million in grants, including $1 million from the Washington State Public Works board, and another $9.7 million in Broadband Infrastructure Acceleration grants doled out by the Washington State Department of Commerce. The funds will help the PUD connect 2,600 homes in Gardiner, Quilcene, Cape George, Discovery Bay, and Marrowstone Island over the next two years.

Locally Operated Infrastructure, Affordable Prices, Fast Speeds

Construction is expected to start later in 2022, with the first subscribers to come online sometime in the first half of 2023. A project breakdown says they hope to provide basic speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $65 a month, and speeds of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $90 a month. The network will be open access, which means that additional ISPs (including, presumably, those currently offering service on the existing network) will be able to continue into the expanded areas.The PUD plans to offer a low-income tier for $45/month ($15 after the Affordable Connectivity Program subsidy), which is welcome to see.

The Jefferson County PUD currently provides electricity to 19,000 local residents, and water and septic service to an additional 5,000. While the PUD has spent decades building a fiber network that now connects about 50 businesses in Port Townsend, until 2021 Washington state law prohibited them from providing service directly to users, forcing the PUD to lease access to a third-party ISP to provide retail Internet...

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Posted March 18, 2022 by Karl Bode

Buoyed by an explosion in new grants and the recent elimination of state restrictions on community broadband deployments, Washington State is awash in freshly-funded local broadband proposals that should go a long way toward shoring up affordable Internet access across the Pacific Northwest. 

In addition to Covid relief and various state grants, thirteen Washington State counties, ports and Tribal associations recently received $145 million in Broadband Infrastructure Acceleration grants aimed at boosting Internet access and affordability statewide. It’s the first tranche of $260 million planned for new infrastructure, and particularly exciting because it looks like nearly all of the funds went to community-led endeavors, with many of the newly built networks operated by local governments. Some projects will result in partnerships with locally rooted providers.

“Infrastructure is the foundation for digital equity,” Washington Commerce Director Lisa Brown said of the funding. “Washington state’s goal is to ensure all of our residents have access to affordable high-speed internet, as well as the devices, skills and confidence needed to connect with critical resources.”

State leaders say they received more than $413 million-worth of requests for 36 different projects, and have shared both a list and a map of all approved grants online. 

Essential Aid for Existing Projects

The funds will be a welcome boon for many Washington State Tribal regions, including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which won $4.1 million to help expand fiber access along Highway 155 between Nespelem and Omak, Washington—as well as a project recently profiled by ILSR designed to provide...

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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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