Mason PUD 3 commissioners on Tuesday, July 11 approved a program designed to expand access to PUD 3’s fiber optic network for gigabit speed broadband service.
Nearly 40 people attended the meeting, at which PUD customers representing Harstine Island, Tahuya, and Lake Cushman urged commissioners to approve the Fiberhood plan.
Margie Benson noted in a letter to the commission that her broadband provider has limited capacity in her Tahuya River Valley community. Benson said speed and reliability is a problem for her and her neighbors.
Wayne Snoey, a Lake Cushman resident, said there are approximately 3,000 lots in his area of the county. Nearly half don’t have access to the internet. Snoey has testified before the Washington State Legislature, and lobbied existing telecommunications providers to improve the reliability, speed and availability of broadband services in his area.
Lynn Longan, Executive Director of the Economic Development Council of Mason County, said she was encouraged by the PUD staff’s work to find solutions to rural broadband service. Longan said high speed telecommunications services are important for economic development.
The fiberhood process would identify potential neighborhoods that are unserved or underserved by broadband providers. Among other factors, expansion of service would be based on a guaranteed level of customer commitment to obtain service from the fiber optic network. Cost recovery for the project would come through a monthly “construction adder fee” paid back over 12 years. As a public utility, it is PUD 3’s intent to recover costs, not create a profit.
Over the next few weeks, Mason PUD 3 staff will be finalizing the application and review process. PUD 3 will make a formal announcement when the fiberhood application process goes live. Staff will then be available to make community presentations about the program.
The PUD provides wholesale, high speed telecommunications services in its service territory. End-use consumers will work with PUD 3’s retail service partners for the types and prices of services they would receive through a connection to the PUD’s fiber optic network.
Up to 4,000 residents in the PUD 3 service territory have contacted the utility asking that the PUD help bring broadband to their communities. Surveys conducted over the winter showed that slow speeds, high costs, or unavailable service were frustrating shortcomings for those who live in the more rural areas of Mason County.
How Does the Fiberhood Project Work?
- Fiberhood customers will pay $25 per month for 12 years, which is included in the bill issued by the customer’s internet service provider.
- This fee is in addition to the price for internet service. It covers the cost of the physical connection to the network.
- Only active users in successfully established Fiberhoods will pay the construction adder, not all PUD 3 customers.
- Money collected by the customer’s Internet Service Provider is passed along to PUD 3. These funds go into a special account, established by the PUD to pay for future Fiberhood construction.