Boosting broadband in Pierce County

Boosting Pierce County bannerPierce County is exploring ways to support broadband internet service improvements in the community. A countywide broadband access evaluation completed in 2019 found that broadband gaps exist in rural areas of Pierce County and in some areas between cities. Pierce County is not unique in this regard as many communities across the state and nation face similar challenges.

While broadband internet service is largely provided by the private sector and the County’s role in service provision is limited, the County is considering a number of potential actions that are aimed at improving broadband service over time. 

In July 2021 the Pierce County Council committed $15 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to help with efforts to bridge the broadband gaps across the county.

Additional work the County is doing to improve broadband includes:


ActionStatus

Enact Broadband Friendly Policies. 

Revise road standards, zoning code, and design standards to support deployment of small wireless facilities and wireline broadband.
Council unanimously approved at its March 16, 2021 meeting.

View ordinance 2021-9s.

Develop a Dig Once Policy.

Require buried conduits to be installed with road projects and other construction in the right-of-way, enabling future providers to more easily install fiber. 
Council unanimously approved as part of the Manual on Accommodating Utilities in the right-of-way on June 29, 2021. View the ordinance 2021-44s.

Telecomm Franchise Management Program. 

Formalize a telecommunications franchise management program within the Planning and Public Works Department. 
Funding for the program was provided through Ordinance No. 2020-120s. The program became operational in summer 2021.

Review and Update Franchise Policies.

Review and update franchise requirements to encourage and support the expansion of broadband.
In progress. Date of Council consideration to be determined.

Broadband Strategic Plan and Facilitation Study. 

Evaluate large areas that are unserved by broadband, estimate cost of service, consult with providers, and identify potential partnership opportunities.
Study is complete. View the study. Pierce County released a Request for Proposals Sept. 16, 2021 seeking partnerships to serve underserved areas. 

Appropriation of Funds.

Appropriation of funds to support the implementation of the recommendations of the Broadband Strategic Plan and Facilitation Study, Funds to be used to support broadband partnership efforts.

Council appropriated $15 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding to support broadband partnership efforts through Ordinance No. 2021-53.

Legislative Advocacy.

Support state funding and changes in state law to increases opportunities for broadband internet service to unserved and underserved communities. 
This is an on-going activity. 

Broadband 101

Brush up on broadband facts, including the role Pierce County plays in delivering broadband to its unincorporated areas.


What is broadband?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband speeds as at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. Cable, DSL, fiber, and wireless are the prime broadband delivery systems used to meet these demands by connecting users to the internet.


Who provides broadband service in the community?

Like most communities, broadband service in Pierce County is primarily provided by private sector telecommunication companies. 


What is Pierce County's role in the delivery of broadband?

Pierce County manages public rights-of-way, grants franchises to telecommunication providers to operate in the right-of-way and has local building code and zoning code authority related to permitting of certain types of facilities.  Pierce County does not provide broadband service. 


Is Pierce County a broadband provider?

No.


Are there public locations in the community where WIFI can be accessed?

The State Broadband Office provides a list of drive-in public WIFI locations that can be accessed here.


Broadband is available to my home, but is not affordable. Are there any financial assistance programs available?

Some providers offer low-cost programs for qualified households. Please contact the broadband provider in your area for information. Congress also recently enacted legislation to establish a financial assistance program through the FCC for qualified households. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a temporary FCC program to help families and households struggling to afford broadband internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides a discount up to $50/month for broadband service, a discount of up to $75/month for households on qualifying Tribal lands and a one-time discount up to $100 for the purchase of a laptop, desktop or tablet purchased through a participating provider if they contribute more than $10, but less than $50, toward the purchase price.  


The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household. Information on the program is available here, including a link for how to apply for this assistance.   


Broadband resources

Want to learn more about broadband? Work is being done at the federal and state level to help improve broadband access across the country and state. Additionally, there are resources available for people to discover broadband coverage by neighborhood, or where to find public wireless internet.