The Methow Valley Broadband Action Team (BAT) is asking valley residents to complete an online internet speed and service survey offered by the Washington State Broadband Office, to help identify gaps in high-speed internet service and areas in the where broadband infrastructure needs are greatest.
The Washington Broadband Survey, available at twispworks.org, is designed to map internet accessibility and need, and will inform BAT’s decisions on the location of a pilot program to install an initial fiber wire network.
“This information will help us secure state and federal funding for local projects that can enhance service in the Methow Valley,” according to the TwispWorks website.
Access to reliable internet service is an ongoing issue for many valley residents, which prompted TwispWorks to facilitate the creation of the BAT – a group of Methow Valley and Okanogan County political and economic leaders, and people with technical expertise. Consulting firm Tilson Technology Management, Maine-based telecommunications company, was subsequently contracted to assess the valley’s broadband status and assist in creating a plan for better internet accessibility. The grant for Tilson’s study was awarded by the state Community Economic Revitalization Board, part of the Washington Department of Commerce. The $50,000 grant includes a match of $16,667, shared by Okanogan County and the Twisp Public Development Authority. The grant application was written by TwispWorks.
BAT’s plan to move ahead in building a pilot fiber network was prompted by a recent report by Tilson. The report recommends fiber-wire as the broadband infrastructure of choice, an option that requires physically installing fiber cable to deliver broadband internet throughout the valley. According to the report, that project would have an estimated cost of $40 million.
The pilot program build-out will be headed by the Okanogan County Public Utilities District, with potential funding coming from an application through the Public Works Board to develop a fiber-wire network to one specific area, with more to come later.
BAT, with the assistance of Tilson, is looking into available state and federal funding for building a valley-wide fiber-wire network. The report from Tilson suggests a variety of potential funding sources, including annual loans and grants through the Washington State Broadband Office, the Economic Development Administration’s Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance, along with newly available funding through the CARES Act, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
A fourth and final report from Tilson, which is due later this year, will provide BAT with more information about application deadlines and funding options.
The location of the pilot program will be determined by a few variables including, relative ease of infrastructure development, cost and need, as determined through speed test mapping via the Washington Broadband Survey.
TwispWorks Executive Director Don Linnertz is a member of the BAT, which also includes mayors of Twisp and Winthrop, a county commissioner, and two residents with expertise in broadband services.