High-speed fiber optic to connect northeast parts of the county
More than 700 homes and businesses in one of the most rural parts of Okanogan County will get high-speed internet service through a $30 million grant recently awarded to the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD).
Okanogan PUD will construct over 245 miles of fiber optic cable in a 300-mile area in northeastern Okanogan County, to enhance broadband access to 745 residences and 21 businesses.
The project will benefit the communities of Nine Mile, Molson, Chesaw, Havillah and Siwash Creek. Funding comes from a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service ReConnect Program.
Without grant funding, it’s not cost-effective to bring high-speed internet to rural areas like, this, because of the long distance between hookups and the small number of customers, said John MacDonald, manager of broadband services at the PUD.
“If it was financially feasible, it would have already been done. The most rural area of Okanogan County got this recent grant” for fiber-to-home deployment, he said.
The generous allocation of $30 million is a significant stride towards enhancing accessible, cost-effective internet connectivity for the residents of rural Okanogan County,” MacDonald said.
The PUD will partner with retail service providers to bring high-speed internet to customers in the project area. The multi-year project is expected to begin in the spring of 2024.
As part of the project, Okanogan PUD will carry out pole replacement and vegetation mitigation strategies for the new and existing infrastructure in the project area.
The PUD is continually seeking funding opportunities to improve broadband access in its entire service area, including the Methow Valley, MacDonald said.
It has submitted a grant application to bring fiber optic cable to about 250 homes in Carlton through the USDA Community Connect Program, and expects to hear whether the funding is awarded by the end of the year, MacDonald said.
Only four customers have opted to take internet service using PUD fiber to their properties in Carlton, and others use wireless internet provided by the PUD, which is not as reliable but “better than not having anything at all,” MacDonald said.
“Future needs for broadband in the Methow would focus from Pateros to Twisp,” MacDonald said. He said the Twisp area has more fiber distribution because of the population density. Okanogan PUD’s service area in the Methow Valley extends up the valley from Pateros to a mile north of Twisp, and about four miles west on Twisp River Road.
The PUD has included portions of its Methow Valley service area in four of seven grant applications for fiber-to-the-home. But competition for the funding is intense, and the PUD is happy to have received the $30 million grant for its rural broadband customers in the northeast part of the county, MacDonald said.
“We celebrate wins but take the losses on the chin and move forward,” he said.
“We are continuing to go after opportunities that would benefit both the Okanogan and the Methow valleys,” MacDonald said. “Because we had a win in the Okanogan Valley, the next area I would want to focus on would be the Methow.”
The Okanogan County Electric Cooperative (OCEC) received a $12 million grant earlier this year to bring fiber to residences and businesses in its service area in the upper part of the Methow Valley.
OCEC partnered with Methownet, the valley’s local internet service provider, on the project to build a broadband fiber optic network that will provide internet service to 2,600 potential users from Winthrop to the north end of Lost River Road in Mazama.
OCEC officials have said they hope to expand the fiber distribution to other parts of its service area in the future if funding can be secured.
The source of the $12 million grant is the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a Biden administration program enacted in 2021 to mitigate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds are administered by the Washington State Broadband Office, which awarded the grants.