Mason PUD 3 Receives Federal Funding for Local Fiberhood, Public-Private Broadband Partnership
by Mason PUD 3 on
January 29, 2020
High-speed broadband for the "Three Fingers" area of Grapeview gets financial support from The U.S. Department of Agriculture's ReConnect Program.
(L-R) Justin Holzgrove, Mason PUD 3 telecommunications & community relations manager; Lynn Eaton, PUD 3 assistant public information & government relations manager; Joel Myer, PUD 3 public information & government relations manager; Evan Smith, district representative for U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, economic development, special projects; Katy Crabtree, district representative for U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.
(SHELTON, WA) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today (January 29) announced that Mason PUD 3 has been awarded a $2.4 million grant from its ReConnect Pilot Program for extension of high-speed, wholesale broadband to the “Three Fingers” area of Grapeview.
Including a local match from PUD 3, the $3.3 million project will deliver gigabit-speed fiber-optic service to 250 households and businesses in the community.
The project will build on the success of the PUD’s Fiberhood program and its public-private broadband partnership. When the PUD extends its wholesale-based fiber-optic network to the area, qualified providers will have the opportunity to sell internet, phone, video, and other services to end-users.
“This is the task of our generation, to ensure that all rural residents and future generations have the same access to affordable high-speed broadband as their urban and suburban counterparts,” said Kirk Pearson, (USDA) Rural Development Washington State Director. “The Broadband ReConnect Program is helping us satisfy our mandate to improve the quality of life of all rural residents by improving their access to education, health care, and economic opportunity enjoyed by other Americans.”
“PUD 3 is grateful for the support we received from the staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help with our application, and funding for the extension high-speed internet to citizens in the Three-Fingers area of Grapeview,” said Tom Farmer, Mason PUD 3 commission chair. “They have no access to broadband, and the prospect of getting it was very poor. This federal-local government partnership will make it a reality.”
“Over the past decade, PUD 3 staff received countless phone calls, emails, and messages from those in the Three-Fingers area who do not have access to high-speed broadband and no reliable cell coverage,” said Justin Holzgrove, PUD 3 telecommunications and community relations manager. “Cost and underground service challenges have been barriers for this area. Taking a solutions-oriented approach, we found that the ReConnect program will bridge the funding gap, making it economically feasible for PUD 3 to extend its fiber network to this community.”
“For over 80 years, Mason PUD 3 has been building infrastructure to stand the test of time, all for the benefit of our customers,” said Annette Creekpaum, Mason PUD 3 manager. “This grant would not be possible without the outstanding maintenance of our system by PUD 3 employees and award-winning financial management. I see this as recognition that our employees truly reflect our mission of always providing safe, reliable, economical service, 24/7.”
“Connecting rural communities to high-speed internet can be a vital tool in the effort to create more economic opportunities for more people in our region. I supported this grant because broadband can lead to new jobs and businesses, empower students by placing new information at their fingertips, and help rural communities get in on the economic growth we’re seeing that’s been largely concentrated in America’s cities,” said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, who provided a support letter as part of the application process. “Mason PUD 3 has been hard at work to expand high-speed broadband to our region, and it’s exciting to see them receive a grant through the Broadband ReConnect Program to get networks up to speed to better serve our kids, our businesses, and our everyday lives!”
Mason PUD 3’s wholesale fiber-optic network is a nondiscriminatory, open-access, net neutral service. PUD 3’s partners – internet service providers – sell gigabit-speed internet, HDTV, special digital circuits, and phone services. The network provides for improved educational opportunities, telehealth services, economic development, and increased property values.
Mason PUD 3 is one of 42 agencies to receive USDA ReConnect Funding to date. PUD 3 is the only Washington state entity to have applied for grant funding in this round.
Mason PUD 3 serves nearly 34,000 electricity customers in 600 square miles of service territory. PUD 3 also operates a wholesale fiber optic telecommunications network, which supports the operation of its electric distribution services.
Background on the ReConnect Program
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.
These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.
In December 2019, Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced USDA will be making available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding in 2020. USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.
A full description of 2020 ReConnect Pilot Program funding is available on page 67913 of the Dec. 12, 2019, Federal Register (PDF, 336 KB). To learn more about eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.
In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force. To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).
Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board Grant/Loans
Mason PUD 3 received two grant/loan awards from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board for rural broadband projects that will extend service to nearly 1,200 homes and businesses throughout Mason County. These projects are in the engineering stage.
Fiberhood programs benefiting from the first phase of state investments include:
- Chapman Road on Harstine Island
- Fish Hatchery near Matlock
- Island View in Grapeview
- Lake Christine on the Tahuya Peninsula
- Satsop Maple Glen, the Schafer Park area
- Tahuya River Valley
Fiberhood programs benefiting from the second phase of state investments include:
- Dana Drive and Briscoe Point
- Mission Lake
- Panther Lake
- Phillips Road
- Tiger Lake
- Totten Shores and surrounding areas
Internet speeds in the Fiberhoods will be a symmetrical one gigabit per second (meaning, 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload).
Cost recovery for the projects come from a monthly construction adder fee, repaid over 12 years by those who receive service in these areas. As a public utility, the PUD’s aims to recover costs, not create a profit.