The Jefferson County Public Utility District believes internet access across the North Olympic Peninsula is not as robust as the Federal Communications Commission believes, and the agency wants to rectify the situation.
A two-day, two-county summit on improving access to broadband internet could help address that need.
“Reports indicate that in 2018, 92 percent of Jefferson and Clallam counties had access to broadband internet,” said Will O’Donnell, Jefferson PUD communications manager.
“The problem with that figure is that [internet service providers] self-report.
A recent study done by Microsoft researchers concluded that only about half are connected. To that end, the Jefferson County PUD wants to put more fiber in the ground to improve broadband in the county.”
The North Olympic Peninsula Broadband Symposium will be held March 18-19 at the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Red Cedar Hall at 1033 Old Blyn Highway in Blyn.
The event is free, but due to limited space attendees must register for the event at tinyurl.com/PDN-Register. Meals will be provided as part of the registration.
The symposium is hosted by the North Olympic Development Council (NODC) and sponsored by the Jefferson and Clallam PUDs, Team Jefferson/EDC, the Port of Port Angeles and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
A grant from the Seattle Foundation underwrote part of the program.
“We are excited to bring together experts on broadband to work with local government and local citizens to address the need for affordable high-speed internet in our region,” said NODC Executive Director Karen Affeld.
Affeld has been to a number of meetings where the issue of broadband has come up.
“They all want higher speeds at affordable rates,” she said.
“There was a focus on the problems, not necessarily how and where we start. The goal is to find groups of people who want to work on this in certain areas, for example on Marrowstone Island. We want to create broadband action teams. The NODC will follow up with those teams and help with grant writing and facilitating meetings.”
O’Donnell said listening to governmental agencies, community institutions, private businesses, community associations and individuals share their thoughts about their internet requirements, and hearing from experts that have been part of successful programs throughout the county, could help develop collaborative solutions on ways to expand infrastructure and access on the Olympic Peninsula.
Nicole Clark, Clallam County PUD spokeswoman, said the need is great to solve this problem.
“We get approached by homeowner associations and the tribes to put in the last miles of broadband in rural counties,” Clark said. “We hope to be able to bring people together to get grants and solve this issue.”
Symposium attendees will learn about the counties’ infrastructure and technology gaps, explore other rural communities’ successes, and discover what funding and technology opportunities are available.
Experts will hold roundtable discussions and there will be facilitated breakout sessions focused on creating action groups. Internet service provider (ISP) and technology consultants, rural broadband experts and action group facilitators will be available for individual discussion.
The program for March 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., features presentations, panels and networking.
The event’s keynote speaker is Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.
Mitchell is a leading national expert on community networks and internet access. He also runs MuniNetworks.org, an online clearinghouse of information about local government policies to improve internet access.
Mitchell will provide an overview of what broadband is, why it’s an essential utility service and how local communities across the country have created public/private coalitions to bring affordable high-speed broadband internet to unserved and underserved communities.
Microsoft Business Operations and Project Manager Vince Liberatore will discuss the Airband Initiative US team.
O’Donnell said Microsoft’s Airband Initiative is “a newer technology model that uses a combination of fixed wireless technologies — including unassigned broadcast spectrum often referred to as “TV white spaces” — to connect rural residents to high speed internet.”
Liberatore will also report on Microsoft’s efforts to fact check the FCC and gather better data on who is actually served with broadband internet in the United States.
John Flanagan, broadband policy advisor to Gov. Jay Inslee, will attend the meeting remotely.
Flanagan will provide an update on broadband legislation and funding that’s currently under consideration by legislators in Olympia.
Ben Merkle from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s office will present current federal activity regarding broadband. The rest of the day will include a local ISP roundtable discussion and breakout sessions.
On March 19, the program runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Representatives from the state Commerce Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Economic Development Administration will discuss broadband grant and loan opportunities.
Monica Babine of Washington State University’s Program for Digital Initiatives, WSU Stevens County Extension Director Debra Hansen, and Karen Perry of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration Broadband USA program will provide an introduction on how to form broadband action teams and will facilitate breakout groups through the process.
“There are many companies, organizations, governmental agencies, small and home-based businesses and individuals who want improved broadband on the North Olympic Peninsula,” O’Donnell said.
“We want to put more broadband infrastructure in the ground to make that happen. Currently, there’s only 45 miles of it in our county according to our numbers.
“We are looking at the potential to double that over the next 5-10 years. We are looking for funding opportunities and partnerships, and a part of the $24 million slated for broadband infrastructure in the governor’s budget.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].