Clallam, Jefferson counties win grants for broadband

Funding to build out systems during the next two to three years

OLYMPIA — Clallam County will receive $20 million from the Washington State Broadband Office as part of a $145 million grant to expand high-speed internet services to rural areas.

Earlier this month, the county received $4.5 million from the Washington State Public Works Board to build broadband infrastructure in Joyce.

Jefferson County Public Utility District received $9.7 million from this grant to fund some of its rural broadband projects.

“This grant will be used to connect residents in the northern half of Jefferson County, mainly areas where residents can’t get broadband speed,” said Will O’Donnell, communications director for Jefferson County PUD.

Clallam County’s grant award will allow the project to expand and eventually be completed, bringing high-speed internet access to more than 1,600 homes.

The infrastructure will go from the west end of Port Angeles and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway through Coville, Ramapo, and then Joyce.

But there is still design and development work that needs to be done before the actual work on constructing the broadband network can begin, said Karen Affeld, executive director of the North Olympic Development Council.

“There is still design and development work that needs to be done to figure out exactly what the route will look like and how we get there, so the first step is going to be that side of the development work and then, of course, the build-out,” Affeld said.

The hope is that construction will begin in September and will take two to three years.

“This is not a short-term solution for anybody,” Affeld said. “We’re looking at a probably two- or three-year-long process for the build, especially because, with the amount of broadband funding available, there is a shortage of fiber, so long wait times.”

Once in place, the internet would be available to residents through private providers, such as Wave Broadband and Centurylink.

Earlier this month, Chelsea Millar, an analyist for the board of Clallam County commissioners, said the county broadband team elected Clallam County itself to serve as the lead entity on the grant project.

The Clallam Broadband Team, which consists of members cities within the county, the Port of Port Angeles, local tribes and businesses, stated it felt areas within the stretch from the intersection at U.S. Highway 101 and state Highway 112 would be most competitive for the grant.

The county will likely hold a discussion about the project in the coming weeks as part of a work session.

In Jefferson County, the grant will target areas that can’t get a download speed of 25 megabytes per second or upload speeds of 3 megabytes per second, the range the Federal Communications Commission has determined as the best internet speed for most households.

It allows for at least two people to be using the internet on up to five devices.

“There’s a couple of areas that it’s been limited to, like greater Cape George, but not actually Cape George Colony, but it’s everywhere from Middle Point down to Discovery Bay and all the interior there,” O’Donnell said.

Other areas that will benefit from this grant are the Woodland Hills neighborhood and Marrowstone Island.

The broadband grant will help provide more than 650 homes with high-speed internet access, O’Donnell said.

Jefferson County PUD will be seeking additional grant funds from the federal government, which placed an emphasis on broadband access in the recently passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

“This is the third grant we have applied for,” O’Donnell said. “We applied for and also won another $1 million grant for broadband along Anderson Road and Discovery Lake Road, which sets up about 75 connections. We also applied for a $12 million grant from the federal government in August that we are partnering with the state on, but we haven’t heard if we’ve won that yet; it keeps getting delayed.”

O’Donnell also said the PUD is setting up another application for $13 million in grant funding for establishing broadband in the southeast part of the county, with the application going out in February.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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