February 2019 Update
In the United States, 312 million people, or 92% of the population have access to broadband Internet. According the most recent statistics from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 25 million Americans do not have access to a broadband-speed connection to the Internet. The vast majority—more than 19 million people—live in rural areas. That means almost one third of the rural US population does not have access to broadband. This lack of access can put unnecessary constraints on education, health care, public safety, business and many other critical services we rely on for a healthy community and economy. Many Methow Valley residents report being cut off by a total lack of service or inadequate bandwidth, unable to take advantage of digital services and capabilities that are an everyday part of life for many urban residents.
Over the past year, TwispWorks and the local Broadband Action Team have been exploring this challenge in the Methow Valley. A recently completed study (you can read the full study below) conducted with Partners for Rural Washington began a deeper exploration of the issue. Recognizing this challenge is not unique to the Methow, recent meetings with Perry Houston, Okanogan County Planner, the Okanogan County Commissioners and Ernie Rasmussen representing the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) helped us focus on this common challenge in our county. Our next step is to apply for Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) planning grants to further evaluate our current service area map and establish a plan for underserved areas. TwispWorks, through a contract with the Twisp Public Development Authority, will submit the grant application on May 28. The CCT, led by Ernie Rasmussen and Okanogan County, with help from Roni Holder-Diefenbach, Executive Director of the Economic Alliance, will make separate applications that address the unique geographical and community needs across our vast county. Ernie, Roni and Don will continue to meet throughout the project to ensure an integrated county-wide solution.
August 2018 Update
Because reliable, high speed internet plays such a vital role in the economic health of our valley, TwispWorks has identified rural broadband internet as a top priority advocacy issue and has been working to improve access for all residents. In the Spring of 2018, TwispWorks began leading the discussion convening meetings between our local internet service providers, governments and interested citizens.
The Partners for Rural Washington (PRW), through a grant from Communities of Concern, has teamed with TwispWorks, Okanogan County and the town of Twisp to perform a valley-wide, rural broadband internet needs assessment.
Using information gathered through community input in the form of a survey conducted in late summer 2018, PRW will provide a written report outlining the possible next steps (and cost estimates) for enhancing broadband service in our rural community. This grant funded work is being done at no cost to the towns or county and you can read the Memorandum of Understanding between the Partners for Rural Washington and Okanogan County and Twisp at the end of this article.
Over 13% of Methow Valley residents work remotely and rely on the internet to earn their livelihood. Every day, valley businesses rely on the internet for marketing and financial transactions. Students rely on the internet to complete assignments and parents actively monitor their progress through the internet. Here in the Methow Valley, we are fortunate to have great, local internet service providers who are committed to quality and customer service. But it’s no secret that some valley residents either do not have the service that they require or are unaware of how to get the service that they want. With input from area experts, elected officials and community members, we’ve created this roadmap to help achieve this ambitious goal:
1. Assemble a team to develop a community broadband vision;
2. Facilitate a planning process to understand community broadband needs;
a. Perform a valley-wide needs assessment and identify gaps in service;
b. Evaluate and chose appropriate technology and service options;
c. Create a broadband plan;
3. Implement a community led plan;
a. Identify funding opportunities;
b. Complete identified infrastructure improvements as necessary.