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Winlock, Wash., to See 2K Homes Connected by Broadband Work

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 ISP ToledoTel.

(TNS) — Praising the benefits of the public-private partnership, officials broke ground Friday on a ToledoTel Internet expansion that, when completed, will bring broadband service to more than 2,300 homes and businesses in the Winlock area.

Lawmakers and county officials say the broadband project can serve as a model for future partnerships.

"Today starts the reality of bringing the best broadband Internet access in the world to the residents of Winlock," said Dale Merten, ToledoTel vice president and CEO. "If it hadn't been for this partnership, this would not be a reality."

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. Merten said ToledoTel does not have direct access to the grant funding needed for the project, which required Lewis County involvement.

"Together, with our skills and their skills, we've been able to get this project going," Merten said.

For the county, Commissioner Sean Swope praised county Budget Administrator Becky Butler and Infrastructure Specialist Eric Eisenberg for their work on the expansion project.

"If it wasn't for these two individuals ... this probably would have never happened," Swope said. "It was their expertise and their diligence and their long hours, on top of all of the other work that they do, that helped to make sure that this happened for Winlock."

Swope said the Economic Alliance of Lewis County also deserved credit for the project, adding, "Without their assistance, I don't know that we would have gotten here."

Legislators on hand for the project's groundbreaking said they hope a successful project in Winlock will inspire future partnerships. Reps. Ed Orcutt, R- Kalama, and Peter Abbarno, R- Centralia, said the project could be replicated throughout the state.

"You always want to encourage public-private partnerships, and this has been one that's reality been successful, between the state, ToledoTel, the county," Abbarno said. "And it's good when you have these successful partnerships.

In his remarks, Abbarno said the state should deploy these funds to expand access in "rural communities, and really communities generally."

"I live in Centralia, for instance, and I don't have very good Internet," Abbarno said. "So it just points to the needs that we have. Whether it be senior citizens accessing telehealth to students trying to get their homework done at the end of the day, we need to make sure everyone has access to fast broadband."

Orcutt said these projects help "make the money go further."

"We need to be doing whatever we can to be getting more work done on the dollars that we've got available," Orcutt said.

For the residents of Winlock, the project should bring big improvements to Internet service. Lewis County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock said as a resident and business owner in the area, the current .8MBps DSL Internet is a challenge.

"Trying to practice telemedicine, trying to meet via Zoom, is pretty much impossible at those speeds," Pollock said. "So, the opportunities that are available for people now going forward is just absolutely amazing."

Pollock said after ToledoTel installed high-speed Internet at her veterinary clinic, the difference was "night and day."

"Folks are just going to be incredibly happy with the service they will be receiving in the next couple of years," Pollock said.

Merten said the work on the project is "just starting" and will finish by October 2026.

"We're going to be very busy for the next year or two," he said.

©2023 The Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.