Jefferson County PUD seeks to expand internet

Agency pursuing $12.4M in funds

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Public Utility District is pursuing a $12.4 million grant that would fund installation of fiber optic internet in Quilcene to Discovery Bay and surrounding areas.

As part of the grant application, the Public Utility District (PUD) is asking residents within the project area to fill out an survey. It is online at www.jeffpud.org/broadband-phase-1 and is being mailed out as a paper survey to customers with prepaid return postage.

The survey is due Aug. 13, the PUD said in a press release.

The total project would build more than 160 miles of optical fiber to connect more than 1,600 homes and businesses in Quilcene, Discovery Bay, Gardiner and part of Chimacum, the PUD said.

The project was submitted to the state Broadband Office requesting partnership and matching funds, and, if accepted, it will be bundled within a statewide application to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Broadband Infrastructure Funding Program, the PUD said.

The project builds off the PUD’s recent lease of optical fiber owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, which runs fiber from Olympia to Port Angeles, the PUD said.

The BPA fiber boosts the PUD’s network capacity and provides it with a secure second pathway off the North Olympic Peninsula, as currently the only fiber pathways into and out of East Jefferson County run across the Hood Canal Bridge, PUD General Manager Kevin Streett said in the release.

The PUD plans to be the retail service provider for internet in the project area.

Until recently, the PUD legally could only provide wholesale internet service to private companies, which would oversee and provide customer connections and manage their billing and support, Streett said.

Due to the passage of House Bill 1336 and Senate Bill 5383 in the state Legislature, as of July 25, the PUD can provide internet service along with any fiber installations, Streett said.

While the PUD is planning to be an internet service provider for connections built in grant project area, all PUD fiber is “open access,” Streett said.

“That means that any eligible service provider can use PUD fiber to connect to a customer,” he said. “You don’t have to just use the PUD if other options are available.”

The PUD is advertising that fiber in the project area will offer minimum upload and download speeds of 100 megabytes per second, with gigabyte per second or higher speeds also available.

Currently, Streett estimates the cost of residential service is likely to begin at $65 per month before taxes. Low-income rates will be available, as will Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service.

In a 2019 survey, about 70 percent of residents reported they did not have broadband service. High-speed internet is defined as speeds higher than 25 megabytes per second, said Will O’Donnell, PUD communications director, in a phone interview Tuesday.

In a presentation to the PUD’s Board of Commissioners, Streett identified the $12.6 million project as the first of multiple projects to expand access to broadband in the county.

Although Streett said the PUD’s goal is to ensure everyone in Jefferson County has affordable, reliable access to broadband, he explained that federal and state grant funding opportunities will dictate which project areas the PUD focuses on first.

“Right now, all of the grants are for under(served) and unserved rural areas,” Streett said.

The PUD is working to connect businesses to fiber for which the PUD has already strung or installed conduit, Streett said.

The PUD currently owns a 50-mile fiber network that extends around Port Townsend and Port Hadlock and ends at the Port Ludlow substation on Oak Bay Road.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com.

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