Initiating broadband infrastructure is a methodical process, but it’s one we at NoaNet embrace for the benefit our clients. The Lewis County Public Utility District (Lewis PUD) is a community-owned, locally governed utility providing power services to approximately 33,000 customers throughout most of Lewis County, Wash., and adjacent communities. Lewis PUD tapped into NoaNet’s suite of professional services as it embarked on expanded broadband efforts for its community. From planning and community engagement, to network engineering and outside plant design, to grant applications and management, this working partnership perfectly exemplifies how NoaNet’s professional services can poise an organization for success on the road to securing broadband.
NoaNet started working with Lewis PUD in pre-pandemic 2020, when it launched a Washington State
Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) funded feasibility assessment for Lewis County. This created a deep understanding of the needs and potential approach: who, what, where, how, when, with which partners, and costs. It started with project kickoff meeting, a market analysis, the development of a business case evaluation, business modeling and a buildout strategy, and fulfilling requirements of the CERB planning grant. NoaNet developed construction estimates from results of its Demand Aggregation work (demonstrating needs, current services and public interest) and provided a recommended action plan.
In fielding public interest, a community-wide, broadband survey helped to confirm what many in the community already knew: Internet at broadband speeds was only available to a small minority of county residents. The survey, which was taken by over 3,300 Lewis PUD customers, showed that 77.2% of respondents had internet speeds which don’t meet the definition of broadband. Furthermore, a resounding 97.7% of respondents indicated that they believed that internet is an essential utility.
“Other than a select few areas of the county that have private broadband providers that offer their customers high internet speeds, the survey results provided critical data that showed the dire conditions that the majority of PUD customers face with insufficient access,” said Jeff Baine, Lewis County PUD’s Information Systems and Telecommunications Manager, in a PUD-issued press release.
Following the assessment, Lewis PUD contracted with NoaNet for county-wide network design. The assessment had demonstrated a problem so big, Lewis PUD needed to plan a solution that was equally big and up to the task. Beginning in late 2020 and completed last year, Lewis PUD worked with NoaNet to develop a fiber-to-the-home network design and deployment plan that included the necessary infrastructure needed and estimated construction costs to get broadband internet access to its customers.
To accomplish a community-wide network design for many of its 33,000 customers, Lewis PUD determined it made sense to divide the entire Lewis PUD service territory into 17 individual service zones that utilized its existing network of electric power poles (to string fiber optic cable). As a publicly-owned open access network, the infrastructure would be available for private internet service providers to compete and connect end-users to that critical “last mile.”
With a solid, shovel-ready plan crafted in partnership with NoaNet, Lewis PUD is poised to compete for grants at a time of unprecedented state and federal funding opportunities.
Today, Lewis PUD contracts with NoaNet for ongoing grant-writing and network development services. Lewis PUD has already applied and been awarded for several broadband grants and has several more grant opportunities in the pipeline. NoaNet continues to provide Lewis PUD its expertise in grant funding and shovel-ready design development, working through the red tape of grant applications and attending to related follow-ups. It aligns potential funding with project needs, makes needed modifications to support grant frameworks on existing engineering, and regularly meets with the Lewis PUD team to stay aligned on strategy, and funding to discuss new opportunities, and customer engagement.
President of the Lewis PUD Board of Commissioners, Tim Cournyer, explained in a press release the value of doing the hard work now for Lewis County’s future economic prosperity. NoaNet concurs:
“Attracting new industry, enabling e-commerce, remote work, and technology-based educational opportunities at all levels are being held up by this broadband problem; with unprecedented state and federal spending on broadband infrastructure, the PUD has a historical opportunity to be among those that can help solve the broadband problem that has persisted for years in our community,” Cournyer said. “The PUD solved the electricity problem in rural Lewis County over 80 years ago, and we have the publicly-owned infrastructure expertise to solve this present-day problem now.”
Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) is a not-for-profit wholesale telecommunications mutual corporation that has been serving Washington State since 2000. As a mission-driven organization, NoaNet focuses on bringing world-class telecommunications technology to hard-to-reach communities which lack access to high-speed affordable broadband services.