How far should the Chelan County PUD's buildout of fiber services go? That's a question PUD Commissioners were asked at their meeting Monday. The PUD began the fiber buildout in 2001. The fiber network now covers about 81% of the county. And they're in the homestretch to expand the wholesale fiber network to about 42,000 homes and businesses by the end of 2026.
The fiber network follows the distribution system – neighborhood utility poles. But Contractor availability, property easements, topographical features, permitting, and supply chain issues
can drive up construction costs, cause delays or stop expansion work altogether. That’s why the cost to cover the most remote, sparsely populated areas of the county is exponentially higher.
According to rough staff estimates, continuing expansion may cost $15,000 to $25,000 per premise, and maybe even more.
Staff posed a series of questions for the commissioners to consider, including:
- Should timing broadband expansion coincide with the distribution system maintenance schedule?
- Are there other technologies or grants that could bring high-speed internet to hard-to-reach areas?
- What is the long-term plan for unserved areas, including growth, rural areas, and infill, which are pockets within the established service area that don’t have access to broadband.
Several commissioners said they needed more time to talk it over. In the meantime, staff plans to develop maps of unserved and underserved areas in Chelan County, as well as plans that can be used to select areas for expansion.