Commissioners consider what’s next for high-speed internet access

by Rachel Hansen | Nov 07, 2023

Chelan PUD is in the homestretch to expand its wholesale fiber network to about 42,000 homes and businesses by the end of 2026. On Monday, commissioners started a discussion that will shape future expansion of the PUD’s broadband services. (starts at 01:25:00 on the board audio recording).

“Expanding broadband infrastructure has limits, both geographical and financial,” said General Manager Kirk Hudson. “We’ve reached a crossroads where we need to clearly define when the expansion work will be considered complete, and how we address rural access, growth and development going forward.”

Chelan PUD began the fiber buildout in 2001. The fiber network now covers about 81% of the county. About 56% of people who have access to the PUD’s fiber network take service through internet service providers. As a business line, the wholesale network is currently not financially self-sustaining.

The fiber network follows the distribution system – neighborhood utility poles – to reach homes and businesses. Before Chelan PUD can extend fiber cable into an area, crews often upgrade poles, wires, and other equipment to meet regulatory standards.

Contractor availability, property easements, topographical features, permitting, and supply chain issues can drive up construction costs, cause delays or stop expansion work altogether.

That’s why the cost to cover the most remote, sparsely populated areas of the county is exponentially higher. According to rough staff estimates, continuing expansion may cost $15,000 to $25,000+ per premise.

Staff posed a series of questions for the Board to consider, including:

  • What if broadband expansion were timed to coincide with the distribution system maintenance schedule?
  • Are there other technologies or grants that could bring high-speed internet to hard-to-reach areas?
  • What is the long-term plan for unserved areas, including growth, rural areas, and infill, which are pockets within the established service area that don’t have access to broadband.

Several members of the board said they needed more time to talk it over, which will be scheduled for a later date.

In the meantime, staff plan to develop maps of unserved and underserved areas in Chelan County, as well as plans that can be used to select areas for expansion.

In other news, commissioners:

  • Reviewed the preliminary 2024 budget. A second public hearing is scheduled Nov. 20 with final adoption anticipated in early December. (02:14:00)
  • Unanimously passed a resolution to declare about 3.3 acres of the Fifth Street campus as surplus property. (02:10:00)

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Media contacts

Rachel Hansen: (509) 661-4320
Libby Siebens: (509) 661-8291

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