Local PUDs Say They Should Be Eligible For Broadband Funding

As more effort is put into connecting rural America with broadband service, local PUDs say they want to be considered for federal funding. In a joint statement released Tuesday, the leaders for the Chelan, Douglas and Grant PUDs said the COVID-19 pandemic has made very clear how vital affordable broadband is for rural customers.

In response, those leader said Public Utility Districts must be allowed to compete for the $16 billion in federal funds announced by the FCC in October.

The letter added PUDs have proven they are willing to build infrastructure to unserved areas, and continue to build fiber networks to reach as many county customers as reasonably feasible.

Across Washington State, local PUDs have invested more than $455 million in broadband infrastructure, installed over 7,200 miles of fiber, and connected more than 46,000 end-users. During the pandemic, PUDs also responded by installing wireless hot spots for emergency internet access.

The entire letter from the PUD leaders is below:

Policy makers recognize that broadband access is critical to a community’s success. Congress and the President are considering broadband as part of their respective infrastructure proposals. In October, the Federal Communications Commission will conduct a $16 billion competitive funding program.

Unfortunately, it isn’t clear that PUDs will be eligible for funding. For example, the FCC program requires applicants to provide retail service. Mid-Columbia PUDs have built open accessfiber networks, making highspeed broadband available to about 70% of their customers. Under Washington State law, we do not serve customers directly. Instead, we lease network capacity to retail companies. The approach makes it feasible for retailers to serve customers in rural areas that otherwise are not profitable enough to attract traditional carriers.

PUDs have proven they are willing to build infrastructure to unserved areas. We continue to build our fiber networks to reach as many county customers as reasonably feasible. With each step closer to that elusive 90 – 100% coverage, it gets more costly and challenging in rural areas. Meanwhile, traditional providers are not interested in reaching these customers, and the design of some federal programs mean high-cost areas often lose out on long-term solutions.

Across Washington State, local PUDs have invested more than $455 million in broadband infrastructure, installed over 7,200 miles of fiber, and connected more than 46,000 end-users. During the pandemic, PUDs also responded by installing wireless hot spots for emergency internet access. Still, existing federal funding programs aren’t designed to include our open-access systems and high-quality fiber networks.

To achieve rapid broadband deployment, we urge our nation’s policy makers to work with the Washington State Broadband Office to remove barriers to PUD participation in current and future federal broadband programs.

Signed by:

Steve Wright, General Manager, Chelan County PUD

Gary Ivory, General Manager, Douglas County PUD

Kevin Nordt, General Manager, Grant County PUD


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