PORT ANGELES — Clallam County and the Port of Port Angeles will form a broadband authority to help expand high-speed internet access to rural areas, county and port commissioners agreed this week.
In a joint meeting Monday, county and port commissioners favored a concept that would lead to interlocal agreements with cities, tribes and possibly Clallam County Public Utility District and the hiring of a dedicated broadband coordinator.
The broadband project coordinator — most likely a county employee on a two-year contract — would work with consultants and pursue state and federal grants for broadband projects throughout the county.
“This grant funding is out there right now,” Port Commissioner Connie Beauvais said. “We need to move on it.”
The joint meeting included a recap of a broadband study completed by consultant CBG Communications.
“There’s going to be a substantial amount of money allocated to broadband construction,” state Broadband Office Director Russ Elliott said.
“I think you guys are positioned well to start to take advantage of this unprecedented amount of money that’s going to be coming down the pike to start to make a difference with regard to getting more connectivity, better connectivity, to rural parts of Clallam County.”
Karen Goschen, Port of Port Angeles executive director, said a local broadband authority could provide quick response to funding opportunities.
She proposed a short-term contract extension with CBG Communications to bide time for the port, county and other partners to develop an interlocal agreement for the broadband authority.
The CBG study identified a $120,000 annual cost for a broadband project coordinator. The cost would be shared by the county, port and other partners.
Port Commissioner Colleen McAleer said $390 million was available for broadband in the two-year state capital budget.
“Let’s spend $120,000 to get $20 million of that,” McAleer said.
“It would be a huge return on investment. I think it’s a gamble we ought to be taking to get some of that grant money here.”
Goschen said she did not envision the broadband authority having taxing powers.
“Given the level of resource that’s coming in, I feel like if we try to avoid creating some sort of a taxing authority and stayed focused on trying to just solve our gaps with the funding that’s coming down, we’re going to be better served,” county Commissioner Mark Ozias said.
County Commissioner Bill Peach and others questioned how many players should be at the table in the early stages.
“Time is of the essence, if you will, in the next six months,” Peach said.
Port Angeles City Manager Nathan West said the city, which helped fund the broadband study, would be involved from the outset.
“Broadband is really important to us,” West said.
“I can tell you City Council has prioritized broadband, both at the state and federal level, relative to ensuring that we have more resources available to those citizens in need for broadband.
“Most importantly, though, I think that moving forward, there’d be a great deal more balance if there was some urban representation on the group,” West added.
Ozias said he or another county representative would meet with Goschen, reach out to the city of Port Angeles and “keep the PUD engaged in that conversation should they decide that they want to participate at this early stage.”
“We’ll work to come back within the next, maybe, two weeks with something that we can reflect on in terms of a scope of work and timeline,” Ozias said.
Clallam County PUD Assistant General Manager John Purvis was asked to gauge the PUD’s interest in participating in the broadband authority.
Purvis said he could not speak for the PUD commission.
“Right now, staff doesn’t even have a recommendation yet,” Purvis told Ozias.
“Give us a few days to discuss among staff and look at the details.
“I don’t think I can give you an affirmative now or tomorrow,” Purvis added, “but maybe in a few days, depending on the scope and the details of the agreement, we very well may be interested in participating as much as the other county-level organizations.”
Ozias and others said they would welcome the PUD’s participation. Ozias pledged to keep the PUD “engaged and informed.”
“All of our participation is so important,” Ozias said.
The CBG study included a survey that found only 35 percent of Clallam County’s homes and businesses had broadband, and 41 percent of 368 survey respondents said they were satisfied with their connection.
Broadband is defined as 25 megabits per second of download speed and 3 megabits per second of upload speed.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].