WENATCHEE — The Chelan County PUD may be close to lifting a moratorium on the 600 new fiber-optics hookups it has budgeted this year for areas of the county that already have fiber access.
That means that if you’re on a waiting list to hook into the network, you may soon get the chance.
When the moratorium ends, who can get hooked up?
Chelan County residents whose homes and businesses already have access to the fiber network.
How to get a hookup?
Call LocalTel Communications or another Internet Service Provider to check on availability and get on the waiting list.
How much does a hookup cost?
If your home or business is already fitted with a fiber box, called an “ONT,” you pay nothing.
If your home or business needs a full hookup (complete with ONT), the PUD will pay the first $1,500, which is usually enough to cover it. You pay the rest.
The PUD will do 600 new hookups this year.
County residents who are willing to pay the full cost of their hookup, including necessary equipment, are not subject to the 600-hookup cap. The full cost is often prohibitive.
Why the cap?
Since it was created in the early 2000s, the PUD fiber network hasn’t generated enough revenue to cover its buildout and maintenance costs. This has resulted in the utility spending some $120 million of its reserves on fiber. This was in the form of “internal loans” that the fiber system was last year deemed unable to ever repay.
PUD commissioners last year adopted a new policy that puts fiber on course to pay its own way and create a reserve fund that could be used for more network expansion.
Until the funds are there, caps will remain in place and the network won’t expand beyond its current footprint.
The network is accessible to about 70 percent of county residents.
— Christine Pratt, World staff
“We very, very much want to get folks who want the service connected,” Mike Coleman, the PUD’s managing director of fiber and telecommunications, said Monday. “But given the fact that we’ve got restoration going at Lake Wenatchee, how many guys can I spare?”
Coleman said he’d make a decision on the moratorium in the “near future.”
The utility declared the county-wide moratorium late last year after a series of winter storms and falling trees caused extensive damage to power lines and fiber-optic cable in the Plain, Coles Corner and Lake Wenatchee areas. Repairs there continue.
A LocalTel official this week said that customers will get credit for the time their fiber service is down.
Interest in fiber in the heavily forested, relatively remote area is huge, for lack of other viable alternatives for fast Internet.
Community members quickly expressed their displeasure earlier this month, when PUD officials announced they may not rebuild a badly damaged stretch of fiber along Lake Wenatchee’s south shore, and instead use a slower, cheaper, wireless broadband technology to serve the area. The utility has since rejected the option and will rebuild south-shore fiber. Replacement is now expected to cost around $650,000 and could take up to five months.
A fiber-focused community meeting hosted by the PUD at the Lake Wenatchee Recreation Club Saturday drew 120 to 130 people, several attendees said.
“It was packed,” said Gary Bell, who owns a home on the south shore. “Everybody is super happy they’re going to rebuild it.”
He said he and others still question why PUD officials didn’t take advantage of an emergency declaration they issued Dec. 20 that allowed them to skip the normal competitive-bidding process to acquire the services and supplies they needed quickly to repair power and fiber storm damage.
PUD lead attorney Carol Wardell said Tuesday that the utility could have used the declaration to acquire the needed fiber supplies, but chose instead to weigh other options and potentially save money by subjecting fiber-related repair expenses to a competitive-bidding process.
At the time of the declaration, power restoration, not fiber restoration, was the priority, she said.
The declaration states that longer-term repairs would be subject to competitive bid.
Christine Pratt: 665-1173