ToledoTel, an internet provider based in Toledo, announced Thursday during a Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event that it is seeking a partnership with Lewis County to expand high-speed internet to the Winlock and Napavine communities.
In April, the state approved the Washington Statewide Broadband Act, which allocated $326 million to the Washington State Broadband Office (WSBO) for grants related to broadband infrastructure projects.
The historic amount of funding is expected to aid in the expansion of fiber-optic infrastructure in Lewis County, speeding up the delivery of high-speed Internet to areas with limited service.
Only city ports, PUDs, municipalities and nonprofits can apply for the grant money.
Lewis County is sending out a request for proposal (RFP) next week to find an internet provider to partner with to expand high-speed Internet coverage in the county.
ToledoTel has been in discussions with the county and in its announcement Thursday will respond to the RFP with their plan, which is expanding to over 3,500 customers in Winlock and Napavine.
If accepted for the RFP, ToledoTel Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dale Merten said the company plans to build a 10-gigabit fiber internet line to Winlock and Napavine.
“Ten gigabit equipment has just been released,” Merten said. “It’s the latest and greatest, and I want a future-proof network. This is cutting edge. We’re going to do it to over 3,500 locations and start connecting services immediately with the best broadband in the country.”
The company already serves 200 customers in Winlock and Napavine. ToledoTel’s plan is to build off its existing network already in those two communities, not start from scratch, which another company would have to do if accepted by Lewis County.
Still, ToledoTel needs to be selected for the county’s RFP before the next steps begin. Merten said maybe there’s another company out there that can connect more houses than ToledoTel can but he doubts it. The WSBO also has the final say on if the county and its partner is awarded the grant money.
Merten has already been in contact with the WSBO and said they love this plan.
“They told me it is the perfect private-public partnership and would be the model they’re looking for,” Merten said. “They like this plan. They think it’s great. We think we have a very, very high chance.”
Another factor is a required 20% match. Whoever is awarded the grant must commit 20% of their own money to the total cost of the project. ToledoTel is willing to commit the 20% of the $35 million project, Merten said, meaning the country will not spend any of its money on the match.
He said ToledoTel has all the preliminary engineering complete, enough electronics in its warehouse to start today and it recently bought all the fiber it could find in the United States.
“We are ready,” Merten said. “We have the equipment, we have the experience, we have the people. It’s a no-brainer.”
ToledoTel and the county’s PUD already have a unique relationship as well, Merten said, with ToledoTel even performing some maintenance for the PUD.
State Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, who was in attendance for Thursday’s announcement, was in support of ToledoTel earning the RFP partnership with the county.
“When we’re trying to get broadband out into the market, we need the people who can do it the best,” Abbarno said. “When you’re a senior and you need telehealth, when you’re a student and you need to do hybrid education, when you’re anybody at this point, you need high-speed Internet. If we don’t partner and get this out the door fast, our entire community suffers. Right now we have the people with the expertise to do it. Let’s do it.”