Grays Harbor PUD Examines Fiber Expansion in Washington

Grays Harbor Public Utility District (PUD) recently received a $50,000 Washington state grant to conduct a feasibility study in order to determine the best route for expansion of their open access broadband infrastructure into Oakville and the Chehalis Indian Reservation. Both areas are considered underserved and some areas in the region have no Internet service available to residents or businesses.

The Reasons Are There

The Commerce Department’s Public Works Board awarded the $50,000 grant and eight other grants for eight other feasibility studies around the state. The funds will likely pay for the entire study and, according to director of PUD Core Service Rod Hanny, will determine the best route for a fiber line and identify "right-of-way issues, permitting requirements, construction costs, and whether the project would fit the needs of the communities and the utility itself."

Officials at the PUD say that they've received many requests from residents and businesses in the area to establish fiber infrastructure for Internet access. The PUD also wants to put fiber in place in order to improve other utility operations. Currently a substation in the area is monitored via satellite and a fiber connection would be create a more reliable method of communication. If the feasibility study reveals that a project would be a beneficial investment for the region, the project would take roughly a year to complete.

Washington ports are now allowed to develop and use fiber optic infrastructure both within and beyond their geographic borders. Prior to 2018 ports were prohibited from offering wholesale services outside their borders. After HB 2662 unanimously passed, places such as the Port of Ridgefield took advantage of the change to develop fiber optic infrastructure for better local connectivity. The ability for ports to deploy open access fiber networks and offer wholesale services beyond their geographic boundaries provides the opportunity for high-quality Internet access and competition in places where national companies have been hesitant to develop infrastructure.

Schools Need Fiber

In Washington, PUDs are prohibited from providing service directly to customers but Grays Harbor PUD received support from the state government to provide fiber access to local schools and an industrial park. Grays Harbor received $463,000 from the Washington 2017-2019 capital budget to carry out the project. In June 2019, the PUD finished constructing the fiber networks at Satsop and Elma school districts and has the possibility to expand in the future. Oakville, one of the two other Grays Harbor County School districts, is not connected.

The benefit of fiber connections to school districts is economic as well as practical. Michael Moore, PUD communications technician, said school districts negotiate contracts with Internet service providers. Prior to PUD fiber connections, the Elma School District had only one option when it came to providers. PUD fiber is open to all legitimate providers, which opens the door to a much more competitive bidding process, saving school districts money.

In an announcement about the grant, Washington Public Works Board Chairman Scott Hutsell said:

“This is another step towards accomplishing the governor’s vision of all Washington residents being served with quality broadband access. In our modern society, access to broadband Internet is a vital resource that touches all aspects of life, from personal health and safety to education to economic welfare.”