Lewis County PUD awarded $9.4 million for broadband deployment to Vader, Mineral, Elbe, and Ashford communities.

On Friday, December 3, the Washington State Public Works Board approved a motion to proceed with grant awards from its 2021 Broadband Construction funding cycle. Included in the list of grant awards were two broadband projects submitted by Lewis County PUD – one project to build fiber optic broadband infrastructure to serve up to 1,135 customers in the greater Vader community and another project to build fiber optic broadband infrastructure to serve up to 1,363 customers in the Elbe, Mineral, and Ashford communities. Each project was awarded $4.7 million for a total of $9.4 million. Both builds are expected to take approximately 24 months, with activation of service for customers to occur no later than May 2024. “These recently awarded projects, and several planned projects in the future, are game-changing for these communities,” said Tim Cournyer, President of the PUD Board of Commissioners. “Broadband is a 21st-century utility that increases the quality of life and economic prosperity for those who have access to it: students can access educational resources, people of all ages can access virtual healthcare, and consumers and businesses alike benefit from e-commerce.” In the coming weeks, the PUD will engage in grant award contracting with the state, and the PUD Board of Commissioners will continue to review financial modeling as it relates to broadband deployments to ensure proper due diligence is being conducted.

Joe Schey, Mayor of the city of Vader, shared the following reaction after hearing news of the grant award by saying, “Being one of the first communities in the county to take part in this new public utility-based internet system is truly exciting. Even more exciting is the prospect of connection speeds that rival anything else in the region, and with a competitive ecosystem of internet service providers from which our residents can choose. Without a doubt, this will attract further development to the area and give new opportunities to current residents and businesses.”

Cynthia Swift, Manager of the East Lewis County Chamber of Commerce echoed similar sentiments for the Mineral, Elbe, and Ashford communities saying, “We are very grateful for the decision to finally bring high-speed internet to our rural communities of Ashford, Elbe and Mineral. Being able to compete for any work-from-home job, access online school classes, and participate in online meetings will allow the people living in these locations to join the rest of the modern world.”

Both builds include fiber-to-the-home deployment, which means residential and commercial end-users in the project areas will have access to purchase an internet subscription with speeds of 150 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and upload, with capabilities of up to 1 Gigabit per second download and upload for commercial customers who require such services. The infrastructure will be deployed as an open-access network, which means the PUD will own and operate the underlying infrastructure and private Internet service providers (ISPs) will utilize the infrastructure to provide service directly to residential and commercial customers.

The PUD is currently in conversations with private ISPs who may be interested in serving customers on this new infrastructure. Thus far, one company has agreed to serve customers on the system: Toledo Telephone Company (“ToledoTel”), a local, family-owned telecommunications company based in Toledo. “ToledoTel is excited to partner with the PUD on these projects to offer high-speed internet service to the customers in these communities,” said Dale Merten, Chief Operating Officer at ToledoTel.

Shortly after the start of the pandemic, the PUD launched a community-wide broadband survey in May 2020. 3,673 PUD customers participated in the survey, which included a speed test. The PUD learned that 77.2% of respondents don’t have access to broadband per the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) definition of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload.  Also, an astonishing 97% of respondents said they consider internet access an “essential utility.”

Lewis County PUD is working to secure state and federal grants for several other communities within the county. “Following our 2020 broadband survey, the PUD developed designs for broadband deployments throughout the PUD’s service territory,” said Jeff Baine, PUD Information Systems and Telecommunications Manager. “We know many other communities in Lewis County still need access to broadband, and we’re committed to acquiring the grant funds to make that happen.”

About Lewis County PUD

Lewis County PUD is a community-owned, locally governed utility providing power services and telecommunications infrastructure to approximately 33,000 customers throughout most of Lewis County and adjacent communities.