Broadband action group looks to the future
September 30, 2021
New CEO Ken Johnson gave an update of Wahkiakum West’s plans to expand broadband to the east side of the county at the Wahkiakum Broadband Action Committee meeting last Wednesday.
Their goal, he said, is to expand into the remainder of Wahkiakum County and fill in some of the broadband gaps. They are initially planning a couple pilot builds, and if they find a demand, they hope to expand even more.
They are excited to work with Wahkiakum PUD and Steve Carson of Skamokawa Internet Service, and are waiting on some materials, but hope to have some new customers on fiber before the end of the year, Johnson said.
He said the company had applied to extend their telecommunications franchise to the entire county.
“We’re moving as if we are going to get this done, and we want to do it with some urgency,” Johnson said.
Senator Jeff Wilson had questions about fee structures.
“A lot of constituents are saying everybody wants internet, but there’s quite a few that still may be under the conception that this is free or no cost to the user,” he said.
Johnson said that Wahkiakum West would fund the pilot builds and then provide the end service. They would own the assets but pay for electric services and pole attachments fees. He expected that monthly costs would be on par with standard broadband services, despite the likelihood that they would be the fastest in the region.
“None of it is going to be free, it’s all going to be market rate to some degree,” Cowlitz Wahkiakum Council of Governments Director Bill Fashing said. “We’re hoping to get federal/state money to help buy down the cost of the service and make it affordable to the average resident.”
Town Council Member David Olson said that Wahkiakum County was ahead of its neighbors in the campaign for broadband, but it might not stay that way.
“It’s going to take a public/private partnership to get this done,” Olson said. “There has been no active involvement by the port districts, and that is a shame. I would like to see the ports step up.”
He spoke about how fortunate the county is to have Wahkiakum West and the Wahkiakum PUD involved and expressed frustration with what he described as federal dysfunction, with the Federal Communications Commission awarding millions of dollars of grants through an auction to already profitable companies who push out build dates, never intending to build.
“It’s walling off the grant line to Wahkiakum County,” he said.
Olson encouraged the members of the Washington State Broadband Office who were in attendance, to speak up about the dysfunction.
“We’re trying to encourage ourselves not to just think about this trial,” PUD Commissioner and the initiator of the Broadband Action Committee, Gene Healy said of Wahkiakum West plans, “but what is the next step? We’re hopeful that it will be successful enough to go to the next step. There is going to have to be some public funding or we’re going to dry in the weeds.”
“If the rules and regulations both federally and statewide have blocked the citizens of Wahkiakum County from getting service, you guys that deal in that need to work on it,” Healy said, addressing Senator Jeff Wilson and the State Broadband Office.
“We are going to still be here five years from now talking the same kind of stuff if that lid doesn’t get popped off,” Healy continued. “Otherwise internet service in this county will cost $500 a month. If we are going to compete on the national scene, and our children and our medical needs are going to be served by the internet, let’s all hold together and make this happen.”
“I know that is the core of the desire of this Wahkiakum Broadband Action Committee. When we started out that’s what we said we wanted to do and nothing has changed,” Healy said.