Methownet.com, a local company that provides internet service in the Methow Valley, has received approval from Okanogan County to install fiber internet lines along county roads in the valley.
The application by Methownet.com provides for a 50-year franchise “to construct, operate and maintain fiber internet utilities over, across, under and along … all county roads north of Twisp to Include Twisp River Road and Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road,” according to a public hearing notice from the county.
A public hearing on the franchise application drew no comments and county commissioners approved the application last week.
Methownet.com owner Jeff Hardy said the franchise agreement will position the company to provide service to underserved areas of the valley, like Twisp River Road, when it becomes financially viable. He said there are no immediate plans to begin building.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve service,” Hardy said. “We’ve got other projects in the queue.”
Hardy said Methownet.com and other internet providers are working with a local Broadband Action Team (BAT) established last year to evaluate broadband internet services in the Methow Valley and develop plans to improve access to internet for valley residents. “They are planning on doing a study. We are helping them on that. Basically, we all have the same goal – getting better service to the underserved,” Hardy said.
Several initiatives are in the works at the federal and state levels to provide public money to increase broadband internet access, especially in rural communities like the Methow Valley. Gov. Jay Inslee this year proposed creating a Statewide Broadband Office, and the state Senate recently approved a bill creating the broadband office.
“People are realizing how important internet is,” Hardy said. He said he is hopeful that more public funds will become available to expand access to rural areas. “There is a lot of rulemaking at the federal level” that could make more funding available, he said.
Recent surveys and community meetings about internet service in the Methow Valley have shown that residents who live in outlying areas, like Twisp River and Lost River drainages, are unhappy with their internet service, or have no service at all.
Companies must consider the financial feasibility of serving outlying areas, where the number of people served doesn’t cover the cost of building the needed infrastructure, Hardy said. That’s why public funding is important, he said. “It takes these public initiatives to get to that last mile up these drainages,” he said. “It’s an economics thing for those last miles.”
Methownet.com serves customers from the north end of the valley above Mazama, to the south below MacFarland Creek. “The places we don’t get is Lost River and Twisp River past where the PUD [Okanogan Public Utility District] serves,” Hardy said.
Methownet.com has been involved in internet in the valley since the early days of dial-up service in the mid-1990s, and has steadily expanded services, Hardy said. “It used to be that people would call us from the Chewuch” for service, he said.
“There are some efficiencies built in to having local service,” Hardy said. “There’s a relationship with people that you can’t have at the national level.”