Stevens County action team working to improve rural internet access

Proposed projects could start as soon as spring 2022

 

By Loren Grube, Publisher

 

For those of us who enjoy high-speed internet access, there isn’t a concern about our ability to place an order online, read the latest news on our smartphone, send and receive email, stream movies, or share large project files. However, many residents in rural areas of Stevens County don’t have the luxury of constant high-speed internet service. Many live with limited or no access at all. Many drive to a particular area where service is available, such as the public library. For them, streaming a movie from the comfort of their home is out of reach.

 

But there may be hope on the horizon for those underserved areas, according to conversations with Wes McCart, Stevens County Commissioner for District 1.

 

The Stevens County broadband action team has designed and submitted several proposals to fund internet expansion projects to fill the gaps of service in Stevens County. Once the internet backbone architecture is in place, local Internet Service Providers will be able to tap in to extend high speed internet access to homes and businesses from Kettle Falls to Suncrest.

 

The Stevens County broadband action team includes State Senator Shelly Short, District 7 Representatives Joel Kretz and Jacqueline Maycumber, Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart, and head of the Broadband Action Team Debra Hansen (WSU). This team has submitted three internet expansion projects for approval titled: the North Project, South Project, and North-Central Project. A fourth project has already been approved and is moving forward this spring. Following is a description and maps of those projects as described by McCart.

 

Internet Project Details:

 

NORTH PROJECT – Install internet fiber from Kettle Falls to Northport (up Hwy 25), and then back down Aladdin Road to Colville. This new network will hopefully tie back into the NoaNet backbone, which runs from Colville to Kettle Falls to make a loop. Inland Cellular and DNG-Maryland are committed to install this project once funding is approved. Half of the fiber will be buried with the other half above ground. The state of Washington submitted the project to NTIA for funding. Once approved, this project is expected to be build-out within 1-2 years.

 

 

SOUTH PROJECT – Charter Communications met with Shelly Short and Wes McCart to design the proposed network building out an internet backbone network from Hunters to Springdale to Loon Lake to Clayton, down Hwy 231 to Hwy 291, then across to Lakeside Middle School in Suncrest. The County has submitted this project to NTIA for funding. Once approved, the network could be built out as early as summer 2022, depending on weather and other potential delays.

 

 

NORTH-CENTRAL PROJECT – Inland Cellular and Port of Whitman met with Wes McCart, Debra Hansen and Jeff Koffel of TEDD to design the proposed network. The proposal is to build an internet backbone network from Addy to Orin to Rice to Kettle Falls. The network will be open access, meaning local internet service providers can then develop the network to provide internet services to residential areas. Tri-County Economic Development District (TEDD) wrote this grant to the Washington Department of Commerce. Once approved, TEDD will work with carriers to get the network built out, hopefully in 2022 (again depending on weather, parts and delivery timelines).

 

 

BROADBAND RADIO NETWORK – This project is approved and contracts have been signed. Funding will come from the American Recovery Plan Act funds (ARPA). Installers will upgrade the existing 911 microwave system providing extra bandwidth which the County will lease out to ISPs to develop out to residential areas. The microwave network involves a series of towers and buildings where microwave radios are set up in site community shelters. The proposal involves upgrading the tower transmitter and receiver units at nine microwave hops to carrier-grade microwave radios with over 1 Gigabit of capacity. The 911 network will have dedicated bandwidth. The rest will be leased out.

 

“Several cellular and broadband companies are already interested in leasing this extra bandwidth,” said McCart. “Debra Hansen put out an email, and within 24 hours, six providers replied with interest.”

 

The County will own the network, and there will be some kind of bidding process, McCart said. They are hoping to have this upgrade completed in 2022.

 

In addition, McCart mentioned that the Spokane Tribe is installing their own microwave dishes, and there may be opportunity to partner with them by connecting and sharing bandwidth, but this is yet to be determined.

 

We will keep you posted as the above projects are approved and underway.

 

Questions can be directed to stevenscounty@wa.gov.