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Chelan PUD seeks stimulus funds to expand fiber network
[March 23, 2010]

Chelan PUD seeks stimulus funds to expand fiber network

WENATCHEE, Mar 23, 2010 (The Wenatchee World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The Chelan County PUD will seek about $35 million in federal economic stimulus funding to extend its fiber-optic network to communities desperate for a hookup.

If successful, the utility will complete build-out of its network to about 98 percent of the county over the next three years, Bob Shane, a systems engineer for the utility, told commissioners Monday.

Areas that would receive service are about a mile away from existing PUD fiber, Shane said.

Those areas include currently unserved areas at Lake Wenatchee, Blewett Pass, Navarre Coulee, Malaga, the Entiat Valley and parts of Cashmere.

PUD staffers must submit the application for the funding by Monday and should know if their application is approved by Sept. 30.

"We think we have a very good chance of meeting that schedule," Shane said.

He said all but the most "economically unfeasible" areas -- about 2 percent of the county -- would receive fiber service, if the utility is successful in its bid for the funding.

Local companies deliver fast Internet service over the PUD's fiber-optic network. Some companies also offer Internet-based telephone and cable TV service.

Residents of the county's more rural areas, including most of the ones mentioned by Shane, say they're the ones who most need PUD service, because they have few or no alternatives for a fast Internet hookup.

Many residents of these areas run small businesses and "telecommute" -- work from home by receiving and sending job assignments over the Internet.

Shane said the federal funding is available for projects that create or preserve jobs by delivering broadband -- fast -- Internet to rural areas.

PUD staff estimate that the stimulus grant would fund some 75 jobs and make fiber service available to 8,000 additional homes and businesses.

The grant requires a 25 percent funding match from PUD coffers, Shane said. That would amount to about $8.75 million.

Even if approved, the utility could turn down the money if the conditions prove unfavorable to the utility, he said.

PUD finances have been hit hard by the recession and drought conditions, which reduce the amount of electricity produced by its dams and in turn reduce revenue.

Facing a $14 million budget shortfall this year, and coming off a $15 million shortfall last year, the utility slowed its fiber buildout.

Fiber optics is currently available to about 80 percent of county residents and most all of the county's population centers.

Some areas of South Wenatchee remain without service due to limited infrastructure. They would not benefit from the stimulus grant, because they're considered urban areas, Shane said.

Christine Pratt: 665-1173 [email protected] To see more of The Wenatchee World or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2010, The Wenatchee World, Wash.

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