After the past two years of Covid-related challenges, there is little doubt that broadband is now considered critical infrastructure in America. Access to, and use of, high-speed Internet is vital for today’s communities – large and small.
Broadband has revolutionized business, government, education, health care, work and lifestyles. Without robust broadband access and fully technologically literate populations, many communities will be unable to take advantage of the extraordinary benefits that ultra-high-speed, next-generation Internet can provide.
This includes many rural communities currently served by Avista. To help support the strengthening and revitalization of rural economies, Avista is taking a multi-pronged approach in the communities we serve. This includes maintaining and improving relationships with public entities to provide fair and non-discriminatory access to utility infrastructure for the buildout of broadband networks that focus on helping rural communities stay connected to the ever-changing, technology-dependent economy.
Both the Idaho Department of Commerce and the Washington State Department of Commerce are heavily involved in supporting many important broadband projects.
According to Eric Forsch, Broadband Development Manager for Idaho Commerce, currently there is $225 million in federal grant funding ($125 million from ARPA Capital Projects Fund and $100 million from Infrastructure Bill) potentially available in Idaho. And, that number from the infrastructure bill is expected to increase, Forsch said. Additionally, currently $48 million has been awarded across the state. A map with details on each awarded location is available online.
Going forward, Forsch says additional dollars will go primarily to unserved areas of the state or those areas without access to 25/3 (25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload) followed by areas without access to 100/20 or underserved areas. Technology will need to deliver speeds of 100/100Mbps or 100/20Mbps scalable to 100/100Mbps, or in other words a lot of fiber will be deployed across the country.
On the Washington side of things, Erika Henry, Deputy Director of the State Broadband Office said the state has three broadband funders and that 48 projects and nearly $270 million have been awarded since July 1, 2021. The funders are the Washington State Public Works Board (PWB), the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) and the Washington State Department of Commerce.
“These investments include Tribes, ports, cities, towns, counties, PUDs and non-profits covering 24 counties,” Henry said.
She said the state will open a funding round later in the spring for $124 million to eligible communities. Some of those who applied did not receive funding the first time around and are currently receiving technical assistance to help get them more investment-ready for the next round.
“We anticipate having much more available through federal funds in the coming months,” Henry said. “Those dollars, of course, are always accompanied by eligibility requirements we must meet. We have much work ahead!”
Also in the broadband space, Avista Edge, a non-utility subsidiary of Avista, has been formed to explore Internet solutions in rural communities through partnerships with public and member-owned electric utilities, like municipalities, cooperatives and PUDs.
Avista Edge has launched a pilot program with the City of Cheney (WA), a natural partner to offer a new, affordable, high-speed Internet solution along with the other essential services they provide such as water, sewer and electricity. A second pilot is planned with the City of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
This is the first pilot of its kind for Avista Edge, which is supporting the city behind the scenes by providing the technology, expertise and devices that enable the municipal electric utility to deliver high-speed Internet services.