PUD History in Broadband
Since the early 2000s, Lewis County PUD has owned and operated approximately 88 miles of dark fiber, which is unlit fiber optic infrastructure sold wholesale to other entities. This dark fiber is also utilized for the PUD's electric system operations.
In November 2019, Lewis County PUD received a $50,000 grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) to study the needs and feasibility of expanding broadband access to areas within the PUD service area that currently do not have broadband access. The objective was to understand, communicate and bring together Lewis County to establish the need for broadband throughout the PUD’s service area.
In early 2020, the PUD formed the Lewis County Broadband Action Team (BAT) and worked with the BAT to launch a community-wide broadband survey to get a better understanding of what Lewis County residents and businesses want and need in broadband service. The survey also included a speed test component, so the PUD could better understand which communities were or were not being served with broadband access. The survey was taken by 3,673 respondents (about 10% of the PUD’s customer base), and showed that 77.2% of respondents did not have access to broadband. Many of these respondents also indicated that they believe broadband to be an essential utility like power and water.
Following the conclusion of the survey, the PUD commenced an effort to design a telecommunications network and route for the PUD’s service territory that would reach all residential and commercial PUD customers. The design, which includes fiber-to-the-premises network infrastructure, is estimated to cost in excess of $104 million. In order to meet this need in a phased capacity as grants were available, the PUD divided its service territory up into 17 “broadband service zones.” Each of the broadband service zones corresponds with a PUD electrical substation area. The majority of the planned fiber optic infrastructure will be installed on the PUD’s existing network of power poles. The PUD will require state and federal funding for the costs associated with constructing the broadband infrastructure.
The PUD’s plan utilizes a model that has proven to be successful in other areas around the state and country: The PUD would build the fiber-to-the-premises (aka “fiber-to-the-home”) infrastructure as a publicly-owned open access network, which means that the infrastructure would be available for private internet service providers to connect end-users. By leveraging the expertise of private providers to directly serve customer broadband needs in an open-access model so that multiple providers have the opportunity to serve an area, the PUD believes that this creates healthy competition. And with competition comes customer options, typically lower prices, and better customer service by ISPs.
With the survey data that informs where infrastructure is needed and the shovel-ready network design complete, the PUD is now in the process of submitting grant applications to state and federal agencies that administer funds for broadband infrastructure deployment.