Washington’s Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) unanimously approved Mason County PUD No. 1’s Hood Canal-101 Broadband Project grant application in the amount of $797,040. The grant will fund the second phase of a public-private partnership between PUD 1 and Hood Canal Communications (HCC) to extend access to broadband along Highway 101 on the west side of Hood Canal from Eldon to the Mason/Jefferson County line. The Mason County commission also approved a grant for phase one of the project through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
“The concept for this broadband project came about rather quickly over the summer,” stated Kristin Masteller, general manager of PUD 1. “Our utility doesn’t serve broadband, but our customers continue to ask for help getting it. Our neighboring PUDs that do serve broadband already have their plates full with projects in their own service areas. When Mike Oblizalo, from Hood Canal Communications, came to me with a plan to serve our electric customers along the canal, we realized that HCC was going to need our help to procure the grant funding to make this a reality, so my team and commission agreed to step up and partner with them.”
Mason County also awarded ARPA funds to HCC to build out fiber in the Colony Surf development in Lilliwaup. PUD 1 has supported HCC’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration grant, which if funded, will complete the buildout from where the CERB project ends at the county line, up to PUD 1’s electric customers in south Jefferson County, all the way to Mount Walker. PUD 1 serves electricity to south Jefferson County as part of a longstanding interlocal agreement with Jefferson PUD, and their predecessor Puget Sound Energy. “About a third of our electric service area is unserved or underserved with regard to reliable, high-speed internet. This puts our community at a severe socioeconomic disadvantage because they lack access to telehealth, telework, remote learning, and general facets of everyday life that people experience through internet connectivity. We see it as our role as a utility service provider to help bring the resources and partners together to help make this happen for our community,” Masteller said.
As part of the CERB funding, about 117 homes and businesses will be connected between Mike’s Beach Resort and Forest Drive, just across the county line. Phase one, funded by ARPA, will also connect 58 homes and businesses between Eldon and Mike’s Beach. The Colony Surf project will connect an additional 90 homes. “The pandemic really highlighted the need for high-speed internet and solidified it as an essential service. As a result, we’re seeing this once-in-a-generation opportunity for grant funding to build out fiber to the home. HCC has received almost $8 million in grant funds over the last 20 years for serving rural, underserved areas and we appreciate our partnership with PUD 1 to help us reach new unserved areas on the canal,” said Mike Oblizalo, vice president and general manager for Hood Canal Communications.
Kevin Shutty, Mason County’s District 2 Commissioner, joined the PUD’s CERB community broadband committee and was a project champion for both the ARPA and CERB funding applications. “I am pleased the County commission was able to help fund the first phase of this project and support PUD 1 and HCC’s request for additional state and federal grants to expand broadband access. Connecting rural residents is a priority for us as we work with public and private partners to ensure Mason County leads our regional economic recovery and remains competitive into the future,” stated Shutty.
For this funding cycle, CERB approved $1,975,000 in low-interest loans and $8,272,040 in grants for 10 planning, economic development and rural broadband infrastructure construction projects.