CHIMACUM — The Jefferson County Public Utility District might have two options to consider as it works toward a vision to provide broadband internet access to more customers.
Additional information from T-Mobile, a potential partner, as well as a decision from the three PUD commissioners is still down the road.
“One of the major points is to get to the unserved,” Commissioner Dan Toepper said Monday during the presentation of a draft plan at the Chimacum Fire Hall. “The underserved is secondary. We have to be able to quantify that in some way, shape or form.”
Randy Trost, a senior broadband consultant from Magellan Advisors, presented broadband survey results from this spring and two potential paths forward, if the PUD chooses to focus on building the infrastructure.
One would include an industry partnership, possibly with T-Mobile, which would have the expertise and spectrum the PUD doesn’t currently have, Trost said.
“There are certain skill sets we either have to grow or obtain because you haven’t been a broadband company in the past, and that’s OK,” he said. “Somebody like T-Mobile could bring that skill set here.”
The other option Trost recommended is to develop several local utility districts (LUDs) and turn them into clusters he called “fiberhoods,” with customers in those areas choosing to finance the infrastructure growth across a 15-year period.
In either case, the proposal likely would include the extension of fiber with a mix of fixed wireless services and the possibility of 5G technology, and the PUD would contract with local internet service providers (ISPs) such as CenturyLink and Wave Broadband to bill for the service, Trost said.
Both Mason PUD 3 and Kitsap PUD use a form of fiberhoods, groups of 50 to 500 homeowners who would share resources to pay for the last mile of service, he said.
State law prevents PUDs from being involved in retail sales, making the contracts with ISPs crucial, Trost said.
The speed of the internet connection would depend on a number of factors, including bandwidth and, in the case of wireless service, the potential for line of sight.
“This is a very, very tough region to do fixed wireless,” Trost said. “These pine trees, they soak up [radio frequency] dramatically.”
Expenses also rise with the height of a communications tower, he said.
“5G is great if you’re within 600 feet of the antenna, but if you go inside someone’s office, then you don’t have that broadband anymore,” Trost said.
Jefferson PUD received about 1,300 responses from the public survey it posted in March, a number slightly more than the 1,000 it anticipated, Trost said.
It asked customers whether they had broadband service and what kinds of speeds they have, he said.
The self-reported survey provided a smattering of results, since speeds weren’t verifiable, although the most important feedback came from responders who provided more specific details, Trost said.
“We had pages and pages and pages of verbatim responses, and those are very telling,” he said. “A lot of them were saying, ‘My service is terrible.’ ”
Trost said anyone can access broadband speeds of 25 mbps with satellite service, but the goal would be to provide a broad range of access, both residential and commercial.
Trost said the PUD could issue a bond to pay for infrastructure improvements, or it could look to areas to form the fiberhoods, where 80 percent of the group would need to opt in to pay for the service to be provided.
Toepper made it clear the end user would be paying for the upgrade.
Regionally, Mason PUD 3 adds $25 to a customer’s bill if they choose to be included a fiberhood, while the Kitsap PUD model includes a $25 monthly charge for 20 years, Trost said.
Both are examples of open-access models, which Jefferson PUD also would employ, he said.
Financially, Trost showed an example of the LUD/fiberhood proposal that started with a $1.3 million investment and assumed a steady growth to 2,000 subscribers to have it break even in eight years.
In that case, customers likely would pay between $85 and $95 per month, he said.
“The PUD may be the only entity that can affect real change in broadband for the region,” Trost said. “If a private company comes in, you’ll have what we have now — pockets of broadband and pockets without.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].