In focus: ToledoTel, county officials celebrate milestone in high-speed internet project in Winlock


Lewis County commissioners, ToledoTel staff and others gathered at KR Rentals in Winlock Friday, May 3, to celebrate the first connection for an ongoing project to expand high-speed internet access in the area.

In October, officials broke ground on a joint project with ToledoTel that will bring broadband service to more than 2,300 homes and businesses in the Winlock area.

The project includes 134 miles of line construction, funded through a $23.5 million grant from the Washington State Broadband Office and an additional $2.35 million matching funds from ToledoTel. Dale Merten, ToledoTel vice president and CEO, said ToledoTel did not have direct access to the grant funding needed for the project, which required Lewis County involvement.

During the groundbreaking, Merten estimated that the project would be completed in October 2026.

Below is a news release on Friday’s event from the Lewis County commissioners: 

Representatives from ToledoTel and KR Homes joined Lewis County officials, Rep. Jim Walsh and others today to mark a significant milestone in the effort to improve rural internet service: the first fiber broadband connection resulting from the Winlock Broadband Expansion project.

Commissioner Scott Brummer, who had the honor of plugging in the fiber to KR Homes in Winlock, hailed the symbolic event and local leaders’ commitment to bridge the digital divide and empower communities with robust, reliable internet access.

“This is a unique partnership between local government and the private sector that has brought tangible results to the people of Lewis County,” Brummer said. “I am hopeful these collaborative efforts will bring additional broadband infrastructure improvements to benefit our communities.”

Commissioner Lindsey Pollock echoed his sentiments. 

“Broadband access brings wealth of opportunity for our future,” she said. “New modes of working, learning, and collaborating with people near and far are now accessible to the residents of Winlock. Gone are the days of spending three nights downloading small business accounting software, explaining that we can’t access video, and inability to access the full breadth of training materials available online. This project enables thousands of people to enrich their lives and reach toward a brighter future.”

Months in the making, the celebration at KR Homes – located at 316 Meier Road in Winlock – reflects a coordinated effort between county, state and local stakeholders. Lewis County secured funding from the Washington State Broadband Office (WSBO) to provide access to high-speed internet to roughly 2,300 homes in Winlock and surrounding areas. As a key partner in the initiative, Toledo, Wash.-based ToledoTel is contributing a 10 percent match to the project.

“This project exemplifies what can be achieved when individuals and
organizations come together with a shared vision and purpose,” said Commissioner Sean Swope. “Today’s event is a testament to the strategic leadership provided by Becky Butler, Eric Eisenberg, Dale Merten, the Economic Alliance and countless others who have helped secure funding, navigate regulatory hurdles and overcome logistical challenges to make this project succeed. This collaborative effort not only bridges the digital divide but also fosters a sense of solidarity and progress that we are honored to be a part of.” 

KR Homes business owner Kurt Reddig said he is thrilled about his company’s new fiber internet connection.

“Having the county commissioners and the Chronicle present highlights the importance of this project not just for us, but for the community as a whole,” Reddig said. “We’re proud to be part of an initiative that enhances our local infrastructure and look forward to the positive impact it will have on our business and the area.”

Dale Merten, Vice President and COO of ToledoTel, highlighted the benefits of fiber optic internet for residents and businesses in underserved areas, including blazing-fast speeds, enhanced reliability and increased opportunities for education, telemedicine, remote work and economic growth. He said residents will be able to “download and upload files in seconds, stream high-definition content without buffering and experience lag-free online gaming.”

He said users can say goodbye to dropped connections and outages because fiber optic cables are less susceptible to weather disruptions and other problems that can plague traditional copper lines.

“High-speed internet opens doors for education, telemedicine, remote work and economic growth,” Merten said.

The Winlock Broadband Expansion project is expected to wrap up by 2025. Once complete, the county will own the broadband infrastructure and ToledoTel will use the fiber optic lines to assist in connecting businesses and homeowners to internet service. “Lewis County is a great place to live,” Pollock said. “And this project is making it even better.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the full news release from Lewis County.