Grant for fiber-optic line to valley lapses

By Ann McCreary
Methow Valley News


Methow Valley, WA - A state agency is withdrawing $800,000 in funding that would have helped the Okanogan County Public Utility District extend a fiber-optic telecommunications line into the Methow Valley.

The PUD had originally planned to bring the fiber-optic cable into the valley, with a proposed call center as the initial customer for the new telecommunications services. However, delays in developing the call center, which was expected to create more than 100 new jobs, forced the PUD to postpone work on the fiber-optic line indefinitely.

The state Community Economic Revitalization Board had awarded $800,000 in grants and loans to help with the $1 million fiber-optic construction project. In a recent letter to the PUD, CERB noted that since the funds were awarded in 2001, "unfavorable market conditions have precluded NCTeleserve from moving forward" with the call center.

At a PUD commission meeting this month, PUD engineer Derek Miller said the district would tell CERB that it is unable to use the state funds for the fiber-optic project.

The line into Twisp would have connected the Methow Valley to the PUDís 82-mile fiber-optic system extending from the Columbia River at Brewster to the Canadian border north of Oroville.

In the Okanogan Valley, wireless telecommunications services linked to the fiber-optic system are being expanded by the PUD. A wireless pilot project approved last summer, with access points in Okanogan/Omak and Oroville, is providing service through retailers to about 80 customers.

Customers were receiving service at no charge as part of the pilot project, but PUD commissioners this month approved billing them for the wireless services.

The telecommunications project has been criticized by PUD commissioner Don Johnson, who says only a relatively small number of customers will be able to utilize the services, but all electric ratepayers are paying for them.

Until a fiber optic-cable is extended into the Methow Valley, PUD wireless communications services will be unavailable here.


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