Methownet/OCEC Public Statement on Broadband Feasibility Study

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Re: Methownet/OCEC Public Statement on Broadband Feasibility Study

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Electric co-op, Methownet teaming up for broadband service study
MARCH 16, 2022 BY DON NELSON

Will look at fiber optic network possibilities

The Okanogan County Electric Cooperative (OCEC) and Methownet.com are partnering on a feasibility study of what it would require to develop a high-speed, fiber optic broadband network in the co-op’s service area.

The decision to go ahead with a feasibility study came out of the co-op’s recent survey of its members, soliciting their interest in the utility developing a broadband network, said OCEC General Manager Greg Mendonca.

Mendonca said the co-op received more than 1,000 responses to the electronic survey it sent out in December 2021, and the co-op members overwhelmingly expressed a “strong interest in the buildout of a fiber broadband network.”

“There were a lot of positive comments,” he said. About 30% of the co-op’s approximately 4,000 members responded, Mendonca said.

OCEC has contracted with a national consulting firm, National Rural Telecomms Cooperative, that specializes in fiber broadband studies for electric cooperatives, Mendonca said, and the co-op will pay the costs of the study.

Winthrop-based Methownet.com, a private company that provides fiber optic and wireless internet services, will partner in the project by adding its experience and details about its existing services, he said. Mendonca said Methownet.com’s participation will help provide “a better understanding of what it will take for the project to be successful in the community.”

“They [Methownet.com] will lend their expertise as to what a successful network would look like,” Mendonca said. He said the co-op and Methownet.com have already met a number of times to discuss the potential for such a network.

Methownew.com co-owner Jeff Hardy said the ultimate goal “is to get everybody fibered” who wants to be, and “we want to be ready with a workable design” for a broadband system that Methownet.com would have a role in developing.

“We’ve got a good team,” Hardy said of the OCEC/Methownet.com matchup. “It just makes sense.”

Mendonca said the goal is to for the consultants to finish their research by the end of April. OCEC and Methownet.com will be looking for a “clear understanding” of challenges, infrastructure needs, costs and potential timelines for developing a fiber broadband network, he said.

A lot of the information the consultants need can be quickly provided by the co-op and Methownet.com, Mendonca said.

Despite the strong interest OCEC’s membership survey indicated, a major consideration is how many members would actually take advantage of a broadband network if it’s available, Mendonca said. “The financial side of it is really key,” he said.

“We also want to remain objective” about the consultants’ findings, Mendonca said. “If it comes back wildly expensive, we need to be realistic about that. … We have to make sure it makes sense.”

He added that “we also heard loud and clear” that members don’t want a broadband network to affect electricity rates or put electricity service at risk.

Mendonca noted earlier that grant funding opportunities to support expansion of rural broadband service will be available at the state and federal levels, and that the co-op wants to be in position to pursue them if there is membership support. “We need to be ready for that potential window to open,” he said.

Improved broadband access in the valley has been a hot topic for several years, as full- and part-time residents have complained of unreliable or nonexistent service in parts of the Methow.

In the fall of 2018, local business and government leaders launched the Broadband Action Team, a group of local government officials, business leaders and industry experts working to improve internet services in the Methow Valley. A consulting firm began work on a year-long broadband study at the beginning of 2020.

The consultants used the Methow Valley School District boundaries as their study area. They determined that any location that doesn’t have access to 150 megabytes per second (Mbps) internet access is on the wrong side of the rural broadband gap. That includes virtually all locations not in relatively close proximity to fiber infrastructure operated by the Okanogan County PUD or Methownet.com, and also includes most of the customers served by the OCEC and many customers in the Okanogan County PUD service area distant from the PUD’s existing fiber network — basically anyone not living near Twisp or Winthrop.

https://methowvalleynews.com/2022/03/16 ... ice-study/
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Re: Methownet/OCEC Public Statement on Broadband Feasibility Study

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Methow Valley News will probably be doing an article soon on this... :-)
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Re: Methownet/OCEC Public Statement on Broadband Feasibility Study

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Thanks for posting this. I thought originally Centurylink, which we are on, was going to bring fiber optic on out our way up Twisp River Rd. They stopped about 2 miles before Elbow Coulee. The cable is still hanging on the poles since 2010. The Obama admin. had given out some stimulus money so to benefit rural internet service, from what I understand. Centurylink did not complete the job. Now I am hoping the Biden Admin. will give this a kick start, if that's what is needed. We are at 1.2MB/ps and upload is .7, yet we are paying full price.
Anyway, I would like to see OCEC go ahead with this, rather than Centurylink.
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Methownet/OCEC Public Statement on Broadband Feasibility Study

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Methownet/OCEC Public Statement on Broadband Feasibility Study 3/4/2022

 OCEC released a survey to its electric members asking for responses to questions related to the potential for a buildout of a new fiber broadband network in OCEC’s service territory in December 2021

o Received over 1,000 responses to the survey

 As a result of the positive responses from the membership in the survey showing strong interest in the buildout of a fiber broadband network, OCEC will continue its study of the potential project and thanks its members for their feedback and responses to the survey

o OCEC quote “We want to thank our members for such a great response to the survey and providing us with direct feedback on the potential project. Member engagement will be critical for the success of any project like the one being studied, and we are happy to get positive responses urging us to continue our due diligence.”

 The next step for this project will be to complete a feasibility study and OCEC has engaged a national consulting firm specializing in fiber broadband studies for electric cooperatives

 Continuing the long history of collaboration on projects in the Methow Valley, OCEC will be partnering with Methownet to complete the feasibility study

 The partnership will result in a holistic feasibility study that is informed with both the expertise of OCEC and Methownet, creating a better understanding of what it will take for the project to be successful in our community

o Methownet quote “This partnership between Methownet and OCEC is a natural fit. Dedicated to providing service to our community, our organizations have a history of working well together. We at Methownet look forward to collaborating with OCEC as we explore options to improve Internet service for our friends and neighbors.”

 After completing the feasibility study the project will be in a better position to evaluate and access any future grant funding opportunities, whether they be federal or state programs
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Methownet_OCEC Broadband Feasibility Study Statement 3_4_22.pdf
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