Some parts of valley still lack adequate service
A newly created Broadband Action Team is working on the issue of broadband Internet service in the Methow Valley, with the goal of finding ways to improve service throughout the valley.
Don Linnertz, TwispWorks executive director and a member of the broadband team, said the group is looking into the feasibility of submitting a request for a state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant early next year to fund development of a plan for Internet service in the Methow Valley.
The Broadband Action Team was created after Twisp, Winthrop and Okanogan County joined an initiative to study the current broadband services in the Methow Valley with the goal of improving Internet in underserved parts of the valley.
The broadband study was proposed last summer by Partners for Rural Washington (PRWA), an organization that works with rural communities on economic development issues. The towns and county have signed memorandums of understanding with PRWA to work on a study of rural broadband services.
The term “broadband” generally refers to a high-speed Internet connection transmitted through wired or wireless networks.
To gather information about the current levels of service, a survey was conducted last summer and a community meeting was held in October. Both revealed that many residents, particularly those living in outlying areas far from Twisp and Winthrop, are dissatisfied with their Internet service or have no service at all.
The Methow Valley is fortunate to have “great, local Internet service providers who are committed to quality and customer service,” Linnertz said. “But it’s no secret that some valley residents either do not have the service that they require or are unaware of how to get the service they want.”
TwispWorks is facilitating the local Broadband Action Team as part of TwispWorks’ focus on promoting a healthy economy in the Methow Valley, Linnertz said.
A previous survey of valley residents conducted by TwispWorks found that 13 percent of residents work remotely and rely on the Internet for their livelihood, Linnertz said. “Affordable, reliable Internet is important to us. It’s a huge driver of our economy. Businesses that want to expand and grow need this,” he said.
Because reliable, high-speed Internet is so essential to economic vitality, TwispWorks has taken on the issue of broadband Internet service “as a top priority advocacy issue,” Linnertz said.
In addition to Linnertz, the Broadband Action Team includes Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody, Winthrop Mayor Sally Ranzau, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover, TwispWorks program manager Ashley Thrasher, and valley residents Don Rudolph and Harry Grant.
Linnertz said the group envisions a three-phase process that includes a feasibility study, planning and implementation. The feasibility phase is underway and entails developing a vision for Internet service, gaining a better understanding of community broadband needs and identifying gaps in service.
The team is hoping to have the information it needs to apply for a CERB grant by next March, which would provide funds for the planning phase, Linnertz said. A CERB grant, which is funded through the state Department of Commerce, would provide $50,000 with a $12,500 match. The funding would probably be used to hire a consultant to develop a community-led broadband plan and identify potential funding for infrastructure improvements, Linnertz said.
The final phase would be implementation — building the necessary infrastructure to provide fast, reliable Internet to areas of the valley that currently don’t have it, Linnertz said.
During the first phase, the local team is working with PRWA, which is participating in the broadband study at no cost to the towns or county, Linnertz said. PRWA has received funding from other sources to support its work on the Methow Valley broadband study.