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Recovery Act grant to improve fiber-optic network

An $84 million federal Recovery Act grant will add nearly 830 miles of fiber and eight new microwave sites to a high-speed network in Washington to help bring high-speed internet access to some remote parts of the state.

The expansion of the nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network was announced Monday in Seattle by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.

The expansion will add 57 libraries, 22 government facilities, 38 medical centers, two tribal service centers and four community colleges, according to the Northwest Open Access Network, or NoaNet.

The Franklin Public Utility District is among the 15 entities -- which also includes the Port of Whitman County, the state Department of Health, the Association of Washington Public Health Districts -- that will benefit from the grant.

Franklin PUD is to get $1.5 million to expand fiber optic infrastructure to unserved and underserved customers in the district, and will build a fiber bridge to medical facilities and libraries in Franklin County in the next three years, the PUD said. It also has committed $370,000 in matching money to help launch the fiber project, said Debbie Bone-Harris, public relations manager.

Once the fiber infrastructure is in place, retail service providers will have the opportunity to create fiber or wireless connections for residents and businesses, said the PUD.

A call to NoaNet about how much other partners will get was not returned Monday. Information provided by NoaNet said the project would spur more affordable access to broadband for about 380,000 households and 18,000 businesses.

The project will benefit health care in the state by connecting many of Washington's hospitals and clinics to each other and to remote diagnostic imaging, lab and health services, according to NoaNet.

The grant also allow libraries in rural communities to offer broadband access to the public.

NoaNet is a nonprofit owned by 12 not-for-profit public utility districts and another agency that provides broadband and wholesale network services to so-called last mile service providers -- the last leg of delivering broadband or network services to a customer.

NoaNet for over a decade has operated a network that includes 1,831 fiber miles and ultimately serves more than 260,000 customers.

"This is a direct investment in making our state more competitive," Murray said in a statement. "Not only with other states here at home, but with other countries around the globe. This grant will bring tele-health, distance learning, and help for small businesses to many regions in our state for the first time."

-- Kevin McCullen: 509-582-1535; kmccullen@tricityherald.com

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