Most business owners already knew this, but one of the lessons learned during the coronavirus outbreak is that fast and reliable communication is a necessity.
It may seem like urban areas have the advantage when it comes to networks, but in fact, Grant County Utility District officials have been planning to keep the county competitive for years. They said that’s what the fiber optic network is for: to make wholesale high-speed Internet service available.
District utility commissioners voted in 2018 to complete the system across the county, from Grand Coulee to Mattawa.
Russ Brewower, senior director of PUD’s wholesale fiber division, said the work continued despite challenges ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to supply chain issues.
“Since the commission said ‘go,’ we’ve built fiber optics into 5,000 new homes and businesses,” Bretower said.
In fact, the PUD provides the fiber optic network and local service providers sell to retail customers.
Additionally, Grant County’s population is growing and the fiber network has grown with it. The growth represented about 2,000 homes and businesses, Brethower said.
“We actually anticipated this growth,” he said.
Fiber is available in all or parts of Moses Lake, Ephrata, Quincy, George, Mattawa, Soap Lake, Warden and Royal City, among others. Construction continues around all of these towns, as well as further into rural areas.
The network extends all along Stratford Road, partly on Dodson Road and Beverly Burke Road. South of Moses Lake, North of Quincy, North of Moses Lake, South of Ephrata – hey, construction crews are everywhere.
“We get long distances there,” Brethower said.
As a public utility, PUD can support construction in a way that would be nearly impossible for a private company, Bretower said.
Fiber is still a crucial part of a communications network, Brewhower said. It is more reliable than wireless and can be expanded to meet demand more easily than wireless. Wireless is subject to interruption due to weather conditions, which does not happen with fiber.
The fiber will work regardless of weather conditions, Brethower said.
Completion is tentatively scheduled for 2024. Brethower said initially it looked like completion would be in early 2024, but now it looks more like late 2024 or early 2025.
The construction encountered some challenges, starting with the difficulty of obtaining adequate supplies after the onset of the pandemic in 2020. The delivery of equipment, in particular the fiber cable, was delayed due to disruptions in the construction process. manufacturing.
But the project manager stockpiled extra cable, allowing the PUD project to continue with less disruption. Even with supply issues, construction crews should have enough materials to continue working through the end of 2022, Bretower said.
Obtaining permits also presented challenges, stalling some sections of the project. Permits are required to cross Interstate 90, whether overhead or underground, and to cross at railroad crossings. Bretower said PUD officials do not know when those permits will be issued.
The fiber has given Grant County residents and businesses an edge, Brethower said.
“This network brings value,” he said.
He cited the Sunland development near Quincy as an example of how fiber has helped people meet the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Traditionally, most of its houses are summer residences for their owners, or are rental properties. But the year-round population has increased during the pandemic. And Grant County has grown as the pandemic has demonstrated that people don’t have to live near their jobs.
“They can do their job anywhere, but they want to be in Grant County,” Bretower said.
The town of Mattawa is another example. Bretower said a higher percentage of eligible customers in Mattawa have subscribed to fiber than in any other city in Grant County.
“They see the value,” he said.
And, there is a solid list of internet service providers across the county, providing options for customers.
“We’re one of the shining examples of open access in the country,” Brethower said.