2021 Town Hall Meeting Recap

 08/21/2021 -  WCCBP -  ~7 Minutes

Brinnon Broadband Town Hall Recap

This past Wednesday, we hosted a town hall here in Brinnon. We were honored to be joined by several guests, including:

The headline story is that Mason PUD1 and Hood Canal Communications are partnering to build a new fiber network which will reach most residents between Hama Hama Oyster Co and Mount Walker. Jefferson PUD also shared their previously announced projects in Quilcene and Discovery Bay to serve folks north of Mt Walker.

Russ shared that the state is prioritizing areas like Jefferson County due to the lack of service. They have already approved major funding for the Hood Canal extension from Hama Hama Oyster Company to Brinnon. Mason County has also approved county funding south of the county line, meeting the requirements for local matching funds.

With continued community involvement, we have a real chance for fast, affordable, and reliable broadband for years to come.

Notes From the Meeting

Introduction (by us)

  • Who are we?
    • We’re a group of neighbors who live in Jefferson and Mason Counties dedicated to improving Internet access in our community.
    • Our goal is to connect unserved areas within our area
    • Service must be affordable, reliable, and fast enough for a family to use
    • No options exist today which can meet all three goals
  • Why is service so bad?
    • We were skipped when the major statewide broadband network was built in the 2000’s (NoaNET)
    • There is no fiber connectivity nearby. The closest connections are Quilcene and Hama Hama Oyster Company.
    • Without fiber nearby, all providers must beam service from far away (Kitsap or northern Jefferson County). Long distances mean slower and less reliable service.
    • As family needs and technology requirements change, speeds need to increase. None of the current services here can meet this growth.
    • No current service is reliable, affordable, or is too slow to be considered broadband.
      • Services do not meet advertised speeds in the evenings, when most people use them.
      • No services meet the new Washington State target of 100 / 20 (download / upload), or the future goal of even faster speeds. This will be needed over the next 5-10 years.
    • 5G will not improve cellular dead zones, and is not fast enough for household Internet usage in rural areas.
    • Starlink may be a good choice for some who have a large plot, but trees, buildings, and mountains will block service for many. Startup costs are also expensive (>$500.)
  • We need to speak up to ensure we aren’t skipped with the latest federal funding.

Guest Presentations

  • Washington State Broadband Office
    • Our area is a major focus, as many new technologies 5G won’t serve rural areas
    • Small counties (<50k residents) are a priority, Jefferson County qualifies.
    • Working with MPUD1 and JPUD to prioritize grants
    • Federal funding is focused on hard to reach areas, and we expect enough funding to reach almost everyone, even if it was too expensive under previous rules (NOTE: This is really great news for rural areas like ours!)
  • Jefferson PUD
    • Building two networks in Quilcene and Discovery Bay
    • Depends on grant approvals from state and federal government
    • Fiber to the home services start with 100/100 service, with gigabit speeds (1000 megabits) or faster available
    • Jefferson PUD, the BPA, and Mason PUD1 will be tapping into fiber at the Duckabush station in October. This is a major step to help all projects in the area.
    • More details on the Jefferson PUD Broadband Project website  
  • Mason PUD1 and Hood Canal Communications
    • MPUD1 is partnering with HCC to build a new fiber-to-the-home network
    • Fiber to the home, capable of gigabit speeds (1000 megabits) or faster
    • Mason County has funded extension from Hama Hama Oyster to Mike’s Beach Resort (three miles south of the county line)
    • State Broadband Office has approved funding for Brinnon area, but more funding is needed
    • Waiting on final federal grant approval

Questions and Answers

  • When will these networks be ready? Why can’t they be done sooner?
    • Many utility poles need to be replaced before they can add new fiber. This takes time and extra money.
    • No firm timelines yet, but if funding is approved, construction may start in 2022
    • Even if funding is not approved in the first wave, more funding is coming later in 2021-2022
  • What will the costs of service be?
    • Generally much less expensive than wireless/cell/satellite
    • Service should be 2-25x faster, won’t slow down at night, and cost you less than you pay now (sometimes less than half)
    • HCC provided flyer with costs (gigabit $85/month)
    • See slide deck for North Olympic Datacenter pricing (fiber costs are for Port Townsend residents)
  • Will people with long driveways get service?
    • JPUD grants apply to everyone, regardless of long driveways, although some extreme situations may require discussion with homeowners
    • MPUD1/HCC may require home owners to pay for installation, depending on driveway length and whether your utilities are underground
    • Grant funding will determine how much (if any) owners must pay to connect. Some grants provide more coverage than others.
  • What happens if your power is underground?
    • Digging is ~3x more expensive
    • MPUD1/HCC grants cover everyone in service areas, but digging takes more time, and the homeowner may need to pay for some installation costs
    • MPUD1 is working to reduce these costs by installing service when already working on other projects (a “dig once” approach)
  • Will the Black Point resort build service or help with this project?
    • These projects do not depend on the resort
  • Do you need a phone line to get the new service?
    • No. Fiber is a brand new network, so you do not need to have any existing service today.
  • What can we do to help?

Press Intro

The communities west of the Hood Canal are in an internet desert. Most residents have either no way to reliably or affordably access the internet. Where some service exists, it’s limited and does not meet the needs of most families. Five years ago, a group of neighbors formed the West Canal Community Broadband Group. “Bring us broadband” is the cry.

The meeting at the Brinnon Community Center greeted over forty people on a warm summer night and competed with a salmon recovery meeting at the same time down the road. Salmon and broadband are important issues for the folks in this rural part of Mason and Jefferson counties.

It was not unexpected, but ironic that when State Broadband Office director Russ Elliot tried to a Zoom call into the group’s Wednesday evening “summit” there was not enough bandwidth to carry the connection. He had to use a 20th century conference telephone call instead.

Representatives from Mason PUD 1, Jefferson PUD, The State Broadband Office and Hood Canal Communications updated the attendees about state and federal funding and ongoing and upcoming programs from deployment of fiber optic cable to internet connectivity.