Saturday, June 22, 2024

Broadband action team works to expand better and faster county access

Community users can help


OKANOGAN - Whether it’s healthcare, education, remote work or just chilling out with a streaming service, the world is getting more connected with broadband, and Okanogan County is no exception. Our local broadband action team (BAT) helps facilitate planning and fund sourcing opportunities to bring more connection to the county, and there are several ways that locals can be involved.

Although they started in different groups, the BAT for Okanogan County incorporates the Methow and Okanogan Valleys as well as the Colville Confederated Tribes. They formed in 2019, using grant funding for planning and feasibility studies before the state had even formed its broadband office, and before the pandemic. Then things changed.

“The pandemic brought to attention how much we depend on broadband and connectivity,” said Roni Holder-Diefenbach, executive director of the Economic Alliance and facilitator of the BAT.

Originally, some planning included wireless solutions, but to reach its goals, the state requested fiber to the premises in all locations – that makes connecting all service areas much more expensive.

The consulting firm ACRS worked on one of the original BAT plans and is now combining all county plans. President and CEO James Lightfoot said they are excited about the opportunities ahead.

“The BAT’s all-inclusive approach of working with local ISPs, tribal nations and anchor institutions will not only pave the way to a successful network deployment but ensure a sustainable business model for all,” Lightfoot said.

So far, the Okanogan County PUD, Okanogan County Electric Co-op, the Tribe, BigFoot Communications of the Colville Tribe and Ziply have been working on solutions and applying for funding – the Tribe and Ziply Fiber have received funding. A few other grant applications are still pending.

In the meantime, the PUD is upgrading its current fiber backbone to prepare for an increase to customer traffic, according to PUD Broadband Manager John MacDonald. Much like utilities did in expanding the electrical infrastructure to rural areas in the 1930s and 1940s, utilities are expanding fiber services and more customers are coming online all the time.

“Instead of rural electrification, it’s rural broadband-ification,” MacDonald said. “We are seeing customers demand higher and higher capacity.”

What is currently a 10 gigabits/second backbone is in the process of upgrading to 100G capability, so that as more customers come online, service will not “bottleneck” and slow down. To put that in perspective, the average home has a 100 megabit/second service – the new 100G service is 1,000 times higher capacity than that, and one major carrier has already signed up for it.

More funding is coming from the federal and state government, and the BAT will need help from community members to secure funding. Here’s how to participate:

  • A recent set of surveys were sent to service agencies, healthcare facilities, schools, government institutions, service providers and others – the BAT needs as many agencies to fill out these surveys as possible. A few minutes taking a survey could mean a few million dollars.
  • Any residents can take the speed test – again, funding is often selected based on these data points. For those who have a connection, the state Department of Commerce website has a speed test to take. For those without a connection, head for a library or ask a friend or family member with connectivity to help. It’s crucial to identify those without a connection as agencies continue to pursue funding to serve all areas of the county.
  • Join the BAT. They have representation from the county, cities, tribe, WSU Extension office, community organizations, small business, utilities, service providers and community members.

“In such a culturally and geographically diverse area as Okanogan County, our area could be exactly what these funding agencies are looking for,” Holder-Diefenbach said. “When we talk about digital equity and access for all, the challenges in our area can only be overcome when we work together to seek out solutions, and that’s what our BAT is all about.”

More info is available on the Economic Alliance website,, under the “OK CCT BAT” tab.



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