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News March 13, 2023

PUD concludes broadband study

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PUD concludes broadband study

After two years studying broadband deficiencies in Snohomish County and Camano Island, the PUD concluded there is no responsible way to utilize its existing network or build a new network to increase access to broadband service in its service territory while also continuing to provide affordable, reliable, and environmentally sustainable electrical and water services to our customers.

The study found the PUD’s current fiber network is designed for the PUD’s operational use and is not functionally compatible with a broadband service network. To provide broadband services capable of bridging the digital divide, the PUD would have to build an entirely new fiber network at an extremely high per-customer cost due to the low population density and rural environment of unserved and underserved areas.

Currently, approximately 5-7% of PUD customers have inadequate access to broadband. The study found that there are broadband projects, both underway and planned, in the PUD’s service area that should reduce those numbers. Also emerging technologies, combined with a large influx of federal funding, could potentially increase the availability of broadband to unserved and underserved PUD customers in the near future.

Although providing a broadband service network is not a responsible option for the PUD, the study did identify where the PUD can bolster the current approach of sharing existing and future passive infrastructure with community groups and or Broadband Service Providers.

Recommendations going forward include:

  • Update the PUD’s resolution prohibiting the leasing of dark fiber (based on specific business case criteria);
  • Create a Continuous Improvement (CI) initiative to assess if there are meaningful ways to bolster our current engagement with service providers; and
  • Develop a decision framework to create clarity on criteria, costs, and risk to serve as a baseline for considering potential partnerships in the future.

Spurred by requests from community leaders and public officials, the PUD’s broadband study began in 2020. The study set out to find if there was a responsible way for the PUD to help unserved and underserved areas in Snohomish County and Camano Island gain access to better broadband service.

The PUD relied on internal expertise to better understand three areas of focus: legislative and regulatory considerations, operational feasibility, and fiscal prudence. The PUD also selected Magellan Advisors as an external partner for the study. The teams conducted 50-plus hours of outreach to better understand gaps, feasibility, options, and risk.

To read more about the study, including mapping of current broadband services, PUD infrastructure, cost considerations, key findings and more, click here.