February 2, 2022

Olympia, WA.  The Washington State Broadband Office (WSBO) has awarded the Washington Independent Telecommunications Association (WITA) $14.8 M to provide new services to more than 1200 underserved and unserved homes and businesses.  This public-private partnership teams WITA, a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1915, with two small, family-owned telecommunications companies:  Hood Canal Communications (established in 1934) and Whidbey Telecom (founded in 1908).  Together these entities represent over 300 years of commitment to meeting the telecommunications needs of rural Washington.  

The grant will extend broadband services to residents and businesses in several low-density population pockets of Mason and Island Counties.  Each company will contribute a cash match to their portion of the project resulting in Fiber to the Home and offer broadband internet up to 1,000 Mbps (Gigabit) with synchronous upload and download speeds.  The availability of high-speed internet service will also greatly enhance the capabilities of state and local emergency responders in these areas.

George Henny, Co-CEO of Whidbey Telecom stated, “Washington State and the Federal government are making a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness.  We are encouraged by these collaborative efforts and the bipartisan support that is critical to ensure that we have access to affordable, reliable, and scalable fiber broadband technologies supporting the economic viability of rural areas today and into the future.”

Whidbey Telecom and Hood Canal Communications have aggressively pursued and received multiple State and Federal grants, both directly and in partnership with public entities, to ensure that even the most rural parts of their service areas have access to gigabit broadband service.  This grant will also help these companies expand beyond their traditional service areas into neighboring areas which are currently unserved.

According to Mike Oblizalo, General Manager and Vice President of Hood Canal Communications, the company is extremely grateful for the partnership with WITA and the WSBO for making these projects possible.

Contact:
Betty Buckley, Executive Director
Washington Independent Telecommunications Association
bettyb@wita-tel.org
509.690.0530


White boom truck with Hood Canal employee standing near front passenger side with white hard hat, yellow safety vest, and a thumbs up.
Hood Canal Communications (HHC) employee gives a thumbs up while posing in front of a white boom truck.
A map shows where 10-gigabit fiber Internet lines would be installed in Winlock of ToledoTel is approved for a request for proposal from Lewis County.
ERIC TRENT / ETRENT@CHRONLINE.COM

Published Wednesday, December 1, 2021 4:34 pm – Chronline article

By Eric Rosane / ericr@chronline.com

Lewis County commissioners on Tuesday approved a finalized telecommunications agreement with ToledoTel that details a 25-year public-private venture to bring broadband internet services to unserved parts of Winlock.

The full scope of the agreement is tentative on the county being awarded $23.5 million from the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Broadband Office. The county and ToledoTel finalized the application alongside the agreement in time for the state’s deadline on Tuesday.

About $135 million in first-round funding will be distributed through the Infrastructure Acceleration Grants program. The county expects to hear back by Jan. 6 on how much will be allocated for the program.

“I think it’s as strong an application we could make, given the amount of time we had to get it together and the real-world constraints. Other people are facing the same real-world constraints, and that’s why I feel like it’s pretty competitive,” said Eric Eisenberg of the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office, who negotiated for Lewis County the terms of the contract with ToledoTel.

The contract stipulates ToledoTel — providing a 10% grant match — would install, supply and maintain a new fiber optic system connecting more than 2,300 homes and businesses in the Winlock area for up to 25 years. Lewis County would own the fiber optic system.

The company would have exclusive access to the infrastructure for up to three years, and after that would have to open the network to competitors at a wholesale rate.

Per the grant requirement, construction must begin in June 2022.

All grant dollars awarded must be contractually obligated by the end of 2024, and the project must be finished in full by the end of 2026.

ToledoTel says it’s confident it can and have at least 800 new connections online by the end of next year.

“The Winlock project is a very large area, and those people have very poor broadband, if at all. I think we’re uniquely poised to succeed in achieving funding through the partnership with Lewis County and ToledoTel,” the company’s Chief Operating Officer Dale Merten told The Chronicle.

Buildout of the project over the next half-decade will roughly double ToledoTel’s customer base, Merten said, though the company has been busy automating its customer service systems and bringing about efficiencies in its systems. The company currently serves a customer base in the Toledo area, and has been eyeing a jump over Interstate 5 to Winlock since the area began seeing rapid expansion and growth.

Merten said it’s very possible they’ll have to hire more people as the expansion proceeds.

Supply chain shortages could have an effect, if this project was to move forward with full funding. Today, Merten said, they have enough fiber to only build about 10 miles of new infrastructure.

“Fiber and fiber related projects have an 18- to 21-month timeline, but there’s a lot of components to this project,” he said, adding later: “Though supply chains may have an impact on this project, there are still many things we can accomplish in the meantime.”

But many of the cities, ports, PUDs, government municipalities and nonprofits that applied for Infrastructure Acceleration Grants will likely be in the same boat and facing the same challenges Lewis County and ToledoTel have moving forward.

Among the several dozen other applicants that also applied for a grant award is the Lewis County Public Utility District, which requested $10.6 million to bring broadband internet out to Randle and Packwood — a project the Board of County Commissioners had previously voiced support for — and a $179,700 request from Lewis County Community Health Services to implement broadband internet for its Community Health Center.

“Definitely excited just to be able to see our constituents get broadband … Since the pandemic, people have needed (it) in order to do business or do school. Not having adequate broadband has definitely proven a major issue,” Commissioner Sean Swope said.

Contract negotiations between Lewis County and the business took about three weeks, Eisenberg said, which Commissioner Lee Grose applauded.

“This whole process is amazingly rapid for any government,” he said.

Commissioner Lindsey Pollock, a Winlock resident and business owner who said she would benefit from the decision, chose to abstain from the discussion and vote on Tuesday over perceptions of conflicted interests. The approved contract still passed 2-0.

Nearly all of the fiber optic installed in Winlock has been proposed for underground installation. Eisenberg said the expectation is that cable integrity will hold up for 25 years at a minimum, though possibly longer.

Lack of access to broadband internet is a major challenge for many Lewis County residents. According to a customer survey, about 77% of customers within the Lewis County PUD’s service area don’t have reliable access to high-speed broadband internet.

None of us like to see our customers churn. Especially when, if we use the average US$400 (CA$521) customer acquisition cost of Bell and Telus, this means that the top four United States carriers are not only kissing goodbye to $65 million per month in lost future revenue, but another $76 million in customer replacement costs. That’s a lot of money.

So, what can we do about it? 

If the current climate of uncertainty has put your major new projects on hold, perhaps it’s time to relook at some of your existing products and services – and grow revenue from what you have already, rather than experiment with new and unproven concepts.

Start by thinking:

  • What do your customers already value and pay for? 
    • What improvements could you make to their user experience of those products and services, so that they might pay you more for it?
  • What products and services do you currently give to customers for free? 
    • What might you need to do and/or improve to convince your customers that those products and services deliver enough value that they should pay for them?

One prime example is a telco’s email service. Email hosting tends to be like that shiny jacket that has always been in the cupboard, but most telcos don’t typically know when to pull it out or how to use it to their best advantage. This is despite the fact that some telcos have found customers of paid email will spend three times more across their telco brand, and The Radicati Group has predicted that more than 333 billion emails will be sent per day by year-end 2022.

Hosting providers, on the other hand, understand the value of email and know customers will pay for both email and upsells; all you have to do is ask. Only 3 percent of hosting providers (compared to 59 percent of telcos) in the U.S. give email to customers for free.

Summary: 

If your company is currently giving away products and services (such as email) for free, it’s time to stop, realise their value (improving them if needed), so you can fight churn and grow revenue with the resources that you already have, rather than waiting for future results from infrastructure and digital projects that are currently on hold indefinitely.

Additional reading:

For more in-depth reading on this topic, we invite you to download the free white paper, Fight Churn and Grow Revenue, written by our Premier Associate Member, atmail.

The state legislature this session passed two separate bills, ESHB 1336 sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen (R-23) and SSSB 5383 sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-41), which set up conflicting public policies for how local governments can provide retail broadband service, and Governor Jay Inslee last week added further legal ambiguity by signing them both off camera—simultaneously—using his left hand to sign one, and his right hand to sign the other

By doing so, Inslee may evade a state law dictating that whichever bill is signed last takes precedence when it conflicts with other legislation.

“It puts the whole thing into confusion,” Washington Independent Telecommunications Association Executive Director Betty Buckley told Lens. The association represents small, traditional landline telephone companies that have sought to provide broadband service to existing coverage areas.

An advocate for greater rural broadband, Buckley and others backed SSSB 5383, which allowed local governments such as cities, counties, and public utility districts to provide retail broadband service – but only in areas where no coverage existed.

ESHB 1336 offered much greater authority for local governments by allowing them to service “anybody, anywhere, anytime,” Buckley said. “The goal of the House bill was never to provide rural broadband. It was to make a statement about large providers and to create competition for larger providers. If you live on Bainbridge Island and you don’t like the big provider out here, maybe the local PUD will provide you better service or service from somebody that you like. I think that’s incredibly elitist.”

Though both bills passed the legislature, some state lawmakers opposed to ESHB 1336 warned it would incentivize broadband infrastructure expansion in more urban areas and offered little reason to extend it in less populated counties.

It’s an assessment Buckley also shares. “I don’t care if you’re a public entity or a private entity; you’re going to look at your bottom line and think ‘it’s less expensive for us to build an area where there are many customers.’”

Testifying in favor of SSSB 5383 during the session was TDS Telecommunications. Communications Director Kit Beyer wrote in an email that “it appears the priority was to put out a large welcome mat for local governments in the broadband business instead of prioritizing unserved areas, which is important to TDS Telecom. This unfortunate outcome will not change TDS’ fiber expansion efforts in great communities in this state.”

Yet, Buckley added that despite ambiguity over the bills there’s still opportunities for collaboration to improve rural broadband.

“It doesn’t have to be a delay. There are relationships today where a private entity has partnered with a public entity, and they’ve made it work.”

Both bills take effect in July.

Original article published on thelens.news.

We read an interesting paper recently from atmail, one of our Premier Associate Members, titled How to Convert Your Email Platform from Loss to Profit

In an industry first, atmail went out and found the email pricing from 367 telco, ISP, and hosting providers worldwide, to help educate all of us about how much telcos charge for customer email services.

It’s probably no surprise that most telcos either undercharge for their email service, or don’t charge for email at all (because they typically include email as part of a phone/internet bundle). But with the data that atmail found, this study certainly challenges the long-held belief that consumers won’t pay for email. 

What we liked about this study was the level of detail that atmail has included. They shared dollar figures for email subscription pricing, email upsell pricing, examples of best practice, case studies, and more.

If you offer an email service to your customers, you might like to check out atmail’s free report here.

Cartoon - Did you forget to charge for it?
‘Half of the numbers are accurate, that’s why we’re auditing the remaining 56%.’

On January 15th the White House announced that Narda Jones will become the Legislative Director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  She tells me that she’s a “day one” employee meaning she starts work for the Biden Administration on day one of his presidency.

Many of you have had an opportunity to spend time with Narda as she’s traveled to your offices, attended our conferences and met with groups of us both in DC and here in our Washington.  It always amazed me that someone raised in Brooklyn had so much interest in and understanding of rural broadband.  As we look forward to infrastructure packages and new legislation it is comforting to know that we have Narda in our corner.

The attached photo seems appropriate for Narda’s new job as we’re sitting in a boat on Budd Inlet, near Olympia, looking at the eclipse.  I’m wearing a Pioneer Telephone cap.

The full story about the Office of Science and Technology Policy is below.

https://buildbackbetter.gov/press-releases/president-elect-biden-announces-key-members-of-his-white-house-science-team/

In late October Whidbey Telecom became only the second recipient of a USDA ReConnect grant in the state of Washington.  In addition, USDA Washington State Director for Rural Development Kirk Pearson presented Whidbey Telecom with the Washington State Infrastructure Award of Excellence for their efforts to provide high-speed broadband to their customers.  Whidbey Telecom will use the ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect underserved residents and businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Point Roberts, Washington.

George Henny, Whidbey Telecom Co-CEO was thrilled to receive the award saying “we’re honored to be the recipient of the USDA Award of Excellence, recognizing the Whidbey Telecom commitment to keeping our communities connected.” 

As for the ReConnect grant, George went on to say that “like the South Whidbey fiber construction project, this will be a multi-phase, multi-year endeavor. The USDA ReConnect grant is just a start.  We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to put together a plan to fund and build a fiber broadband network in Point Roberts.”

Picture of Whidbey Telecom receiving the Washington State Infrastructure Award of Excellence.
Pictured, L to R:  Kirk Pearson, USDA Washington State Director for Rural Development
George Henny – Co-CEO Whidbey Telecom
Moanalei McManus – Whidbey Telecom, Regulatory Specialist

The full USDA press release can be found here:  https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2020/10/22/trump-administration-invests-596000-high-speed-broadband-rural

Picture of an example chart of a speed test chart that is produced from NISC testing software
Picture above is an example chart of a speed test chart that is produced from NISC testing software.

The FCC speed and latency test requirements are quickly approaching for many companies.  The details are starting to be finalized. NISC is closely following these updates, not only from a regulatory perspective but also from a technical perspective. During a recent Webex presentation, Ryan Larson, Senior Strategy & Marketing Manager from NISC, gave an overview of the requirements and an update on items that NISC has discovered during their cooperative testing with residential gateway manufacturers and service providers.

July-2020-WITA-Broadband-Speed-Testing-Update

Ryan Larson
Sr. Product Strategy & Marketing Manager | National Information Solutions Cooperative®

“These are the communities that we serve; our friends and neighbors. We have a duty to do what is right during times of crisis.” James Brooks, Inland Telephone Company.

I’ve spoken with many of our members in the last few days, all of whom are reaching out to their local communities to see how they can help them through the COVID 19 pandemic. Many are setting up hot spots, many are reaching out to their local schools to ensure that kids can continue to learn from home, and all have waived late fees and discontinued cut-offs. Some are even looking at ways to help people get back on their feet once our country is back to work.

Inland Telephone’s efforts cover all the bases. This story is just one example of why Doug Weis, Inland Telephone Company President, was awarded the President’s Award last year. We were finally able to catch up with Doug and give him his award at the ITA Showcase this spring.

Inland Telephone Company’s Roslyn exchange has FTTH and full coverage. They light-up the entire downtown of Roslyn with Wi-Fi every summer for the Farmers Market and their techs have been told to turn that up now. Inland Telephone Company is currently working with the Roslyn-Cle Elum school district to get those students that do not have service today turned-up. This also includes Cle Elum and South Cle Elum where they have a broadband CLEC.

Inland Telephone Company is not turning down requests for service in any of their exchanges: Dewatto, Prescott, Roslyn, and Uniontown.

They just concluded working with the Colton School District in Uniontown; connecting five households covering twenty students that were identified as needing broadband. Inland Telephone Company is not charging for the service or for the emergency student connections during this period of crisis.

Inland Telephone Company has suspended disconnects and late pay fees. When things get back to normal, they are committed to working with those subscribers that have become economically challenged during this crisis on payment plans.

It’s an honor and a blessing to work with companies like Inland Telephone; companies like all of our members.