Stevens PUD: Broadband Access in Stevens County

By Darrel Hawes, PUD Manager

Broadband is understandably a hot topic for many in Stevens County. It is our goal to clarify community rumors and misinformation about ownership, management, and funding of the broadband project in which Stevens PUD was involved several years ago.

What can you tell me regarding Stevens PUD’s involvement in broadband?

In early 2009, we were approached by the Stevens County Commissioners to participate in a project that would connect existing broadband infrastructure between Pend Oreille and Okanogan counties, which required building infrastructure in Stevens and Ferry counties. The fiber connecting the counties together was installed along Highway 20, which means only cities along the highway, like Colville and Kettle Falls, could benefit from the broadband services. Cities like Chewelah and communities like Nine Mile Falls were too far from Highway 20 to benefit from this project. The infrastructure was designed and built resulting in service that is currently available in portions of Colville and Kettle Falls. At the time, Stevens PUD was the only organization in the county that could legally be the final recipient of the grant.

Were there funds available? If so, what happened to those funds?

A Federal grant for 80% of eligible costs was awarded to NoaNet with a required 20% local match. Stevens PUD did not have the resources to provide the matching funds, so Stevens County provided funds to cover the local match as well as costs that were considered ineligible by the grant. Stevens PUD was the subrecipient of the Federal grant.

What is NoaNet and how are they involved?

NoaNet is a non-profit organization created, owned and operated through an interlocal agreement with several PUDs across the state of Washington. Its sole purpose is to facilitate the delivery and expansion of broadband service in Washington State, and it has a presence in all 39 counties. Upon completion of the broadband project in Colville and Kettle Falls, which occurred in 2013, Stevens PUD elected to initially contract with NoaNet to operate the system. Due to their experience and expertise in this area and due to the relatively small size of Stevens PUD, the possibility of NoaNet eventually owning the system was contemplated from the very beginning. Other PUDs that operate their own broadband systems have the backing of an electric distribution network, a financial and infrastructure support system unavailable to Stevens PUD. In 2018, the broadband system in Colville and Kettle Falls was formally transferred to NoaNet.

Why is it better for NoaNet to own the broadband system in Colville and Kettle Falls?

As noted above, NoaNet has the experience, expertise, and focus to not only operate the system effectively but also to invest in upgrades and expansion as needs and opportunities arise. The Colville and Kettle Falls system is not large enough on its own for Stevens PUD to have dedicated broadband staff, so we would have to rely on subcontractors to supply the service. NoaNet is actively involved with the Tri-County Economic Development District (TEDD) to provide technical assistance developing grant-ready projects and continued network development strategies for Stevens County.

Is there a possibility of Stevens PUD offering broadband service in the future?

We will continue to evaluate whether we can offer such a service cost-effectively without negatively impacting our current water and sewer operations.

How can I get involved in expanding broadband access to my area?

Contact the Stevens County Broadband Action Team. Find out more at the following web page:
https://extension.wsu.edu/stevens/broadband-action-team.