Broadband drive hits a funding snag
January 23, 2020
By Diana Zimmerman
The Broadband Committee met Monday for an update from the Wahkiakum PUD on the project to provide broadband for the east side of Wahkiakum County.
PUD General Manager David Tramblie said that the PUD had determined GPS coordinates for poles in the county east of KM and sent that information to Noanet, who has been working on a broadband feasibility study for them, paid by a grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board. Noanet is currently focused on mapping out the infrastructure and compiling costs.
“I won’t have a good sense for what it will cost for this build out until Noanet completes their study, which will be in a few weeks,” Tramblie said on Friday.
While they wait to find out costs, they are also trying to find funding.
After learning that the USDA planned to have grant and loan funds available for rural broadband through a Re-Connect program, Tramblie discovered that Cascade Networks had already received a loan from USDA for a large part of eastern Wahkiakum, including half of Cathlamet and half of Puget Island.
That means that Cascade Networks is a protected borrower, and no one else can receive USDA funds for that area.
The good news is that the PUD can still build broadband infrastructure in the area, but they might have to find funding through other sources.
The Broadband Committee members had a lot of ideas and spent some time discussing some of the merits of each of them last Monday. Since then, Tramblie has sent a letter to Cascade Networks asking that they amend their service territory and PUD Commissioner Gene Healy has reached out to a representative at the USDA to see if anything can be done.
“Everything is up in the air,” Tramblie said. “We’re trying to keep plodding along and try to open as many doors as we can. Dollars are a big issue, even with USDA. Their grant program requires a 25 percent match, which could be a lot of money.”
And it sounds like they are moving forward with plans to apply for a grant or loan from the USDA while they wait to hear the final word on that subject.
“There are a lot of rules that USDA has for this loan application,” Tramblie said. “That is why we are working with Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments. They are going to try to put the application together for us. There are other entities that we could potentially get money from, they are both state agencies. The Public Works Board, and the Community Economic Revitalization Board.”