Chelan PUD opts out of NoaNet

Chelan County PUD commissioner

WENATCHEE — Chelan County PUD commissioners Monday unanimously agreed to withdraw the utility’s membership in regional telecom nonprofit NoaNet.

Their vote comes about a month after Douglas County PUD commissioners made the same decision. A stalemated vote last week on the Grant County PUD board — two for, two against and one absent — will preserve the membership of the Ephrata-based utility for now.

“This is difficult and its disappointing,” said Ann Congdon, the only commissioner to express an opinion in public session before Monday’s vote. “Part of it is timing. We need to get our own fiber house in order.”

Chelan PUD staff recommended withdrawing from the nonprofit in part because members must back any debt that NoaNet can’t cover with its own revenues.

The obligation could reduce funding available to improve and expand the PUD’s own fiber network, which officials have placed on a track to break even by the end of 2016.

A collection of PUDs state wide created in NoaNet in 2000 to lease unused fiber-optics from the Bonneville Power Administration and use it to connect the PUDs’ own fiber networks to each other and the Internet. Other, private companies are now available to provide that service, and NoaNet is expanding beyond that original vision.

In recent years, NoaNet has acquired two federal grant totalling some $180 million, including the nonprofit’s 20-percent match, to extend its network to remote areas around the state to make fast Internet service available.

Future solvency of that build out is uncertain when the grant funding runs out in about five years, although NoaNet officials say they have promising prospects.

NoaNet is also seeking at least $5 million in new debt to extend fiber-optic hookups to cell phone towers owned by national wireless companies like Verizon, for faster “4G” network speeds.

Chelan PUD officials said they don’t back the broader vision, but will still use some NoaNet services, if the price is right.

Christine Pratt: 665-1173