Year in review: Grant PUD to continue fiber project

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Andrew Munro (standing) and Doug Dawson detailed some tentative options for the Grant County PUD fiber program at a public meeting in April.

EPHRATA — After a year of studies, meetings and discussions, Grant County PUD commissioners decided to continue expanding the utility's fiber network – but with conditions.

The vote came Nov. 14. Expansion will be subject to a year-by-year review and must not impact the district's finances. The areas added to the fiber network will be determined by customer interest - not only verbal commitment, but people willing to sign contracts.

Currently the fiber network is available to about 70 percent of PUD customers. The debate centered around expanding the network to the final 30 percent, mostly in areas where expansion is more difficult and expensive. Utility district employees, after extensive analysis, said the PUD couldn't continue to build without looking at different ways to finance it.

Commissioners rejected the option of a rate surcharge. They decided to review the program at the end of each year, and continued expansion will be subject to criteria that will be established by the commission in early 2018. If the conditions don't meet the criteria, the program will be reevaluated and might be deferred.

For 2018, commissioners approved allocating $7 million from the district's savings to the fiber project. Expansion will depend on customer interest, but customers must be willing to commit to a contract before construction proceeds.

However, commissioners cautioned that some places may be too remote – and getting to them too expensive – to make expansion to those areas feasible, no matter the commitment from the customers.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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