In Washington State, many public-benefit utility providers are fielding public interest and commitments to make broadband available to unserved and underserved areas of the communities they serve.
In rural Mason County, located at the Southern end of the Hood Canal on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Mason County Public Utility District #3 has developed an innovative approach to bringing high-speed broadband to unserved areas.
The PUD transforms broadband deserts into competitive environments with multiple service providers offering symmetrical Gigabit services with no data caps by deploying open-access fiber networks. The cost for these services? About $85 a month.
The PUD has aptly named these connected neighborhoods “Fiberhoods.”
The PUD’s network strategy is demand-based. They identify neighborhoods well-suited for line extensions near the existing middle-mile network. Those areas become pre-qualified for Fiberhood network deployment. That’s when the homeowners take their connected future into their own hands. Neighbors sign up through the PUD’s website to express interest in joining the municipal network. There is no contract or cost to sign up. When at least 75% of the pre-qualified area’s homes have registered their interest, the Fiberhood is put on a construction list.
With many communities struggling to define a way to fund networks, Mason 3 models the network extensions as a partnership between the PUD and the homeowners they serve. In Fiberhoods, homeowners using the service share the construction cost for creating the physical connection to the home. This is done through a bill “adder” of $25 per month for up to 12 years (or the homeowners can opt to pay $3,600 upfront). Only active users in successfully established Fiberhoods pay the construction adder, so homeowners who choose not to be connected are not on the hook to pay for the deployment. The adder is included on the customer’s invoice from their Internet Service Provider for the monthly Internet service bill, which is passed through to the PUD.
As a homeowner, Mason PUD 3’s Fiberhood program looks like this:
- First, find out if your home is in a qualifying fiberhood. You do this by entering your address into the Fiberhood website (www.pud3.org/isfiberhere). If your home isn’t in a qualifying Fiberhood, it’s not being considered for fiber optic expansion at this time. But you can still email the authority with your interest in fiber when/if it becomes available.
- Next, you pre-sign up for your new fiber service and convince your neighbors to do the same. There is no financial obligation to sign up, and you are not required to take service once it is built. Once your Fiberhood reaches a 75% commitment level, it is added to the construction list.
- Then comes construction implementation, meaning that engineering, design, and fiber-optic network build-out is underway in your Fiberhood! Once the network is constructed at the road, you’ll pay a one-time $250 Fiberhood Application Fee for an engineer to review your location and then make plans for the connection to your home.
- You have your pick of several service providers offering symmetrical gigabit services to your home. You receive your monthly Internet service bill as usual, with a monthly construction adder included in it.
With more people working from home, homeschooling, and relying on telehealth in the COVID-19 era (due to reduced in-person appointments), having fast, secure, high-capacity Internet 1Gbps speeds are within reach in Mason County! The cost of the high-speed services is similar to DSL-level service and much lower than cable-level service in the area. It’s easy to see why Fiberhoods are proving very popular in Mason County!
Mason PUD 3 extends discounts for lower-income fiber customers through its low-income program. Using the same low-income qualifier criteria as applied to electric customers, these fiber customers see a $20/month overall reduction in service costs, bringing their monthly fee for 1000/1000 Mbps ultra-highspeed Internet service to $40 per month, before Fiberhood costs.
Many municipalities in Washington State like Mason PUD 3 are leveraging creative models to bring broadband to their communities. If your community has existing middle-mile telecommunications infrastructure and is interested in supporting the deployment of high-speed, the Fiberhood model is worth considering!
If you’re interested in learning more about Mason PUD 3’s Fiberhood model, contact Justin Holzgrove, Mason PUD 3 Director of Engineering & Utility Services, at email@example.com.
Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) is a not-for-profit wholesale telecommunications mutual corporation 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.