By the Lewis County Economic Coalition
NB: This content was produced by the Lewis County Economic Coalition as part of the monthly economic report supplement published in The Chronicle. To learn more about the alliance, visit https://lewiscountyalliance.org/.
At a business meeting of Lewis County commissioners on January 3, the county approved a grant contract with the Washington State Office of Broadband that gives Lewis County $23.5 million to install fiber-optic broadband infrastructure per parcel within Wenlock and surrounding rural areas through Toledo.
This was essentially a formality, as in October 2022, Lewis County commissioners and ToledoTel held a meeting to begin a public-private partnership to expand high-speed Internet services in and around Winlock.
The grant will drive the way for the eventual expansion of Internet service to more than 2,300 homes and businesses in Winlock. The total project will consist of 134 miles of mainline construction. ToledoTel will now begin engineering and design for the project, as well as providing an additional $2.35 million in matching funds for the project.
The Lewis County Commissioners’ decision to accept the grant stated that “broadband services from this project will be a game-changing impetus for the growth, economic development, and quality of life of the Wenlock District.”
This is an amazing opportunity for South Louis County, said Lewis County Superintendent Eric Martin.
“There is convenience, and there are commercial purposes; all of these things are really vital and are becoming an increasing part of daily life, and we want to offer these services to everyone in Lewis County as much as we can,” Martin said. “This project is really the beginning, in terms of providing service to people, and we want to focus on getting broadband to all rural areas and all the people of Lewis County.”
Upon completion of the project, which is expected to run through 2026, the province will own the broadband infrastructure and ToledoTel will use fiber optic lines to help connect businesses and homeowners to Internet service.
Lewis County Commissioner Dr. Lindsey Pollock said, “Broadband infrastructure and access to high-speed internet service is critical to Lewis County residents, businesses, schools, hospitals, and public safety.” “This is a huge step in addressing underserved or underserved areas, bringing us one step closer to bridging the digital divide.”
The Washington State Bureau of Broadband earlier announced funding for 13 construction projects that will provide reliable, high-speed Internet access in 14 communities when completed. The $145 million broadband infrastructure acceleration grant pushes Washington one step further toward its ambitious goal of connecting all residents of the state to broadband infrastructure by 2028.
“Infrastructure is the foundation of digital stocks. The goal of Washington state is to ensure that all of our residents have access to affordable high-speed internet, plus the hardware, skills, and confidence needed to connect to critical resources,” said Lisa Brown, Washington’s director of commerce.
Conditionally awarded Broadband Infrastructure Acceleration Grants, pending final contract execution, are as follows:
• Lewis County – $23.5 million, the project is expected to be completed by December 31, 2026
Clammam County – $20.27 million, project expected to be completed by December 31, 2023
• Spokane Tribe of Indians – $16.8 million, estimated project completion by December 31, 2024
• Snohomish County – $16.7 million, project expected to be completed by January 31, 2024
• Independent Communications Association of Washington – $14.86 million for two subprojects serving Mason and Island counties, project completed by December 31, 2024
• King County – $11.8 million, the project is expected to be completed by January 31, 2023
• Adams County – $10.3 million, project expected to be completed by December 1, 2023
• Jefferson County Utility District No. 1 – $9.7 million, Northern Fiber project expected to be completed by December 1, 2024
• Nisqually Indian Tribe – $6.77 million, the second phase of the OAN project is expected to be completed by December 31, 2023
• Lincoln County – $5.2 million, Connecting Lincoln County project estimated to be completed by December 31, 2023
• Confederate Tribes of Colville – $4.09 million, Broadband Acceleration Project expected to be completed by December 31, 2024
• Port of Bellingham – $4 million, Whatcom County Expansion Project Estimate Completion by December 31, 2024
• Port of Whitman County – $1.06 million, project estimated to be completed by December 1, 2023
Applications for a second round of grants to award an additional $120 million will open later this spring. Input from stakeholders is instrumental in shaping how the office distributes funds, according to Ann Campbell, director of infrastructure programs for the Washington State Bureau of Broadband, noting that local community broadband regulatory groups are a focal point for the effort.
Campbell said in this funding round that the bureau is prioritizing projects that will deploy service in unserved areas, or areas that lack access to reliable service (a wired connection) with speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (megabits per second) download and 3 Mbps upload. The second (25/3)).
Selected projects will provide speeds of 1 Gbps symmetric service unless terrain and geography preclude otherwise.