Rural Broadband and the Methow Valley

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Methow Valley Community Broadband Report Summary

Overview: The Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) completed a Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) sponsored broadband plan and submitted their final report to the CERB Board on March 15, 2021. In addition to a $50,000 CERB grant, matching funds totaling $16,667 were provided by Okanogan County and the Twisp PDA to complete the study. TwispWorks was contracted by the PDA in 2019 to facilitate the Methow Valley Broadband Action Team (BAT) and to direct the study which provides a detailed description of current services available, establishes a community vision for broadband and provides a roadmap for future broadband infrastructure development. Tilson Technologies was hired to conduct the study and summaries of the four reports provided by Tilson can be found below. A complete copy of the report is available by emailing a request to info@twispworks.org.

Summary and Findings: Throughout this study, which spanned from January 2020 to March 2021, the Methow Valley BAT focused specifically on the area within the Methow Valley School District boundaries and chose to create a plan for a fiber to premise solution. Partnering with local utilities, ISPs, anchor institutions, organizations and residents in the Methow Valley, more than six hundred people participated in various aspects of the study. The need for enhanced broadband infrastructure in the Methow Valley to ensure public safety and enable remote work, learning and medicine was widely affirmed along with the desire to preserve the pristine environment and unique culture of our community. In the end, Okanogan County Electric Cooperative determined that broadband infrastructure development is outside of their scope and ability to scale. The Okanogan County PUD confirmed they are currently unable to develop infrastructure outside their electric service territory.

While funding for infrastructure is becoming increasingly available, a significant challenge is the absence of a qualified applicant for the funding. The Methow Valley BAT will continue to convene to identify qualifying projects within the Okanogan PUD service territory (which may extend beyond the original target area for the BAT study) as well as identify eligible applicants for expanded fiber to premise development. Local internet service providers have also expressed interest in partnering in future fiber and wireless infrastructure developments. This, combined with the rapid pace of development of satellite solutions, points to feasibility for enhancing broadband service in the Methow Valley. From the outset, we understood that this was going to be a long process with multiple solutions. Raising awareness of the need in the Methow Valley and providing a roadmap for future possible infrastructure development is a welcome step in the right direction on this road!

Feedback provided as a result of our collaborative work with the Okanogan County/Colville Confederated Tribe’s BAT efforts also resulted in the correction of inaccurate Form 477 filings, clearing a major hurdle and making our region eligible for future Federal funding opportunities. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the agency responsible for defining broadband. The metric they set forms the basis of determining whether the government can say that a household has access to broadband Internet. Today, that metric is 25 megabits per second download (25 Mbps) and three megabits per second (3 Mbps) upload. The incorrect reporting suggested households were served at 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload. You can check your internet speed by taking the Washington State Broadband Office’s speed test.

Test Your Internet Speed

Next Steps: Responding to the call for applications in Fall 2020, the Twisp PDA and Tilson Technologies worked with the Okanogan County PUD to apply for funding through the WA State Broadband Office. Although we ranked very high, the program was severely over-subscribed with over $80M in requests for $9M in grants and we were not funded for this project. In March 2021, we provided a list of ‘shovel ready’ projects, including the Carlton area and Lost River Road near Mazama, to the Washington State Broadband Office to be included for consideration with new funding available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). We are also awaiting a decision on a funding request submitted to the EDA to help fund ongoing convening of the Methow Valley BAT and to hire grant writing resources to continue applying for infrastructure funding opportunities as they emerge. Stay tuned and keep in touch!

Methow Valley Business Models, Technical Model & Action Plan Milestones
Infrastructure, Design, Cost Estimate, Market Analysis & Funding Strategies
Broadband Availability, Gap Analysis, & Demand Assessment
Telecommunications Infrastructure Report

2020 Updates

In January 2020, Tilson Technologies, a telecommunication company based in Maine, was contracted by the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) to conduct a Broadband Planning study for the Methow Valley. This study was funded through a state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant, with matching funds from the Twisp PDA and Okanogan County, to assess internet service in the Methow Valley.

In February TwispWorks facilitated a series of meetings between Tilson, the Broadband Action Team (BAT) and Advisory Council, local stakeholders and community members. These meetings were designed to help inform Tilson’s first milestone of community engagement and visioning, policy review and providing an inventory of existing and developing broadband infrastructure. This detailed report will be coming soon, so check back often! You can read the Methow Valley News’ excellent coverage of the meetings below.

Broadband Badlands article 2/12/20

Community Downloads Its Internet Access Issues article 2/19/20

2019 Updates

The Washington State Department of Commerce’s Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) has awarded the Twisp PDA a $50,000 grant for the Methow Valley Broadband Action Team (BAT) to identify areas in the Methow Valley that lack reliable broadband service.

According to 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. This means nearly 31% of rural residents in the United States are unable to take advantage of digital services and capabilities that are an everyday part of life for many urban residents. This gap, known as the “digital divide” means rural areas like the Methow Valley are at a disadvantage when looking at the global market place and access to information and residents have fewer opportunities to access services like telemedicine and online learning.

In 2018, TwispWorks convened a Broadband Action Team (BAT) made up of local government and community members who recognized the lack of reliable broadband in some areas of the Methow Valley were impacting the economic health and well-being of the community. Community input in the process has been part of each step, including community meetings and an online survey where hundreds of Methow Valley residents and businesses provided input on their broadband needs. The BAT has also worked with infrastructure providers including Okanogan County Electric Coop (OCEC), Okanogan County PUD and internet service providers.

CERB funding for the project consists of a planning study to develop a community broadband plan to identify the technical requirements to bring improved and expanded broadband to underserved communities in the Methow Valley. To secure the $50,000 planning grant, CERB required a grant match of $16,667 which has been secured from Okanogan County and the Twisp PDA, each providing 50% of the match. In addition to leading the work of the BAT, TwispWorks wrote the grant and will lead the oversight of the study, while the Twisp PDA will administer the grant award. Once the technical requirements are understood, the BAT will look at funding for the technical implementation to bring services to areas lacking reliable broadband.

Methow Valley Broadband Position Paper (2019)
authored by TwispWorks

Broadband Access in the Methow Valley

Rural BroadbandAs a rural, mountainous, and remote community, the Methow Valley has limitations to broadband access. Not all residences have access to broadband, service provision is not consistent and the infrastructure to support broadband is not in place in all areas. However, because of technological innovation, a change in the political climate advocating greater broadband access in rural areas, incentives to broadband providers to expand their coverage and an interest from key stakeholders in our local community, we believe now is an opportune time to work to improve broadband access in the Methow Valley.

Read/download Methow Valley Broadband Position Paper (full text)

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.

Read/download Report


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.

Read/download the Methow Broadband MOU