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Idaho is better known for producing potatoes than the state of Washington. But actually, it’s the 2,800 square miles (an area about twice the size of Rhode Island) within Grant County in central Washington that grows more spuds per acre than any county in the United States.
As you might expect, the Grant County Public Utility District (PUD) has a long history of supporting the region’s potato farmers. But for the past 20 years, the county-owned utility has been planting more than potatoes in the fertile soil of the Evergreen State, the benefits of which are being enjoyed by county residents on and off the farm.
Building a Fiber Foundation
In early 2000, Grant County PUD built an open access fiber optic network, allowing multiple local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to compete in delivering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to the county’s 97,700 residents. After investing $182 million to bring high-performance Internet connectivity to 75% of the county, over the past several years the utility has been working to expand the network to cover the remaining 25% into the most rural parts of the Grant County PUD service area.
At their November 27th meeting, Commissioners from the Grant County Public Utility District (Grant PUD) in Washington approved the funds to complete countywide fiber optic deployment. They’ve decided to dedicate an additional $12.6 million in new funding toward infrastructure to speed up the project. The total 2019 fiber budget is now set for $18.4 million to pay for expansion, maintenance and operation, and new customer connections.
According to Wholesale Fiber senior co-manager Russ Brethower, Grant PUD will have a more accurate and detailed timeline calculated in the spring. Approximately 30 percent of Grant County residents have yet to be connected to the network. While some communities have partial connectivity, there are still a few with no connections to the fiber and the new accelerated plan aims to change that.
Big Ambition for A Big County
With approximately 3,000 square miles, connecting the entire county is no small feat. Grant County, known for its large potato farms, contains expansive tracts of rural areas and several dense population centers. Add in the fact that soil varies from rock to easily plowed soil, and the Grant PUD has faced an extensive education in all manners of deploying fiber.
Christopher talked with Brethower for episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast about the network and the start of Grant PUD's efforts in 2000. Brethower discussed the fact that the county is an ideal place for data centers, as companies are encouraged by inexpensive real estate, the climate, low electric rates, and the fiber network.
Brethower also described how connecting the remaining residents and businesses in the county has become a priority for the Grant PUD and that their open access network, as required by state law, has attracted two dozen service providers.
With the additional funding for 2019, the Grant PUD will reduce the original deployment goal from 10 years to five.
Listen to the November 2017 interview with Russ Brethower here to learn more about the story behind Grant PUD’s fiber network:
This is episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Russ Brethrower, a project specialist at Grant County Public Utility District, discusses how Grant County, Washington, pioneered open access infrastructure in the United States. Listen to this episode here.
Russ Brethrower: Our commission, management, everybody's made it really clear. Our capital is an investment in the future of the county up and down the food chain. It's -- it's a given that it's an investment and the capital is not expected to be returned.
Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for local self-reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher recently attended the broadband community's economic development conference. He attends every fall and if he's lucky he's able to record interviews with people from some of the communities we're curious about. He also makes the trip to each Broadband Community Summit the spring time event. While he was at the November event in Atlanta, he connected with several people including this week's guest Russ Brethrower from the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington Grant County PUD has one of the most established and geographically largest open access community networks in the US. The rural communities population is sparse and widely distributed but community leaders had an eye toward the future when they decided to invest in fiber infrastructure. In this interview, Russ shares the story of their network and describe some of their challenges. Here's Christopher with Russ Brethrower from the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington.
Grant County's Public Utility District was, along with some nearby PUDs, among the very first deployers of Fiber-to-the-Home networks shortly after the turn of the millennium. And per Washington's law, they built an open access network that today has more than twenty service providers.
Grant County PUD Project Specialist Russ Brethrower joins us for Community Broadband Bits podcast 279, a live interview from the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta.
We discuss the history of the network and other observations from Russ, who has more direct experience in these networks than the vast majority of us that regularly speculate on them. We also talk about the experiences of open access over 16 years and how they financed the network.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.