Avista has entered the Internet service provider market.
Avista Edge, the company’s non-utility subsidiary, is conducting a pilot broadband program to enable the city of Cheney to provide what representatives have hailed as fast, reliable internet in select city neighborhoods.
Avista Edge officially launched in August 2020 as a natural extension of Avista’s portfolio, said Mark Gustafson, president and CEO of Avista Edge. As a non-utility company, Avista Edge is not funded by electricity and gas customers.
Right now, Avista Edge is focused on reaching customers served by public utilities — such as municipalities and public utilities — in the Northwest. Gustafson said investor-owned utilities, such as parent company Avista, have state-regulated franchise agreements that allow them to provide electricity and gas, but not other products like broadband.
“Their customers are typically under- or under-served in broadband, which is why we do business,” Gustafson said of Avista Edge’s target audience. “We want to help those communities.”
Gustafson said Avista’s research and development teams have spent the past few years developing patents on the technology launched through Avista Edge.
Using a device that attaches to the home’s electric meter, the Avista Edge technology is designed to pick up a 5G network over fixed wireless signals installed in strategic locations to provide equal coverage, it said. Gustafson. Gustafson said Cheney would need 15-17 locations for Avista Edge services across the city.
The pilot between Avista Edge and Cheney includes only one plan to start: $99 per month, prepaid, for upload/download speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) with no data caps. There are no equipment costs or a long-term contract, and trial customers do not have to pay an installation fee.
Currently, the pilot only supports single-family homes and small businesses on single-phase electricity meters, with plans to support multi-family locations later this year or early next year.
“With the technology, and as we grow into the future of 5G in 2022, we will be able to surpass those numbers,” Gustafson said of internet speed.
According to BroadbandNow, the price for 100-Mbps cable Internet through Davis Communications Inc. in various parts of Cheney $94.95 per month. The price mentions free installation and no data limits, although modem costs are not included.
A 100-Mbps DSL connection through CenturyLink/Lumen Technologies, meanwhile, cost $50 per month with free installation, but excluding modem costs.
Gustafson said Avista Edge is unique because of the company’s “leading” technology.
“As the cost of the 5G network comes down, our supply chain and the current state of our economy is really pushing our costs down right now, which is kind of unprecedented,” Gustafson said. “We certainly hope to bring those costs down in the future.”
The Cheney pilot will be available to more than 180 customers in the Avalon and Harvest Bluff neighborhoods. Eligible customers can expect invitations to participate as early as the end of this month.
Gustafson said that while Avista Edge hopes to offer internet services to the entire city if the pilot goes well, residents will not need to sign up.
“This service is just an alternative offering in a really competitive space,” he said. “There may not be high-speed options, but there are options today that range from traditional satellite to cable and DSL over copper phone lines.”
The partnership with Cheney is the first broadband pilot of its kind for Avista Edge. Gustafson said the company is also working on a partnership with Bonners Ferry.
Cheney city administrator Mark Schuller said the two main Internet providers serving the city — CenturyLink/Lumen and Davis Communications — are not meeting the needs of the community.
That’s coming to the fore with the COVID-19 pandemic, Schuller said, citing virtual city council meetings that had been confused with glitches, inconsistent levels of internet service depending on the neighborhood and complaints from residents unable to send emails during busy times of the day.
“When (students) were on campus, Eastern Washington University is served pretty well by fiber,” he said, “but once they got into the community and tried to do things remotely, it only annoyed the already challenging situation here.” but.”
When asked about Schuller’s comments, Carol Campbell, Davis Communications office manager, said the company meets industry standards set by the Federal Communications for high-speed Internet. The FCC’s minimum standards for broadband are download speeds of up to 25 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 3 Mbps.
Davis Communications services up to 1 gigabyte per second for downloads and uploads at 35 Mbps.
“We’re directly connected to your house,” Campbell said. “We are also working to bring 1.5 (Gbps) to Cheney and Medical Lake this year.”
Lumen Technologies spokesperson Kerry Zimmer said Lumen “recognizes how important it is for Cheney residents to have access to high-speed internet and the everyday role it plays in their lives.”
“We are continuously evaluating our network to expand or improve our broadband capabilities and welcome efforts such as public-private partnerships or government grants for broadband,” said Zimmer.
The City of Cheney will provide the labor to install the Avista Edge devices on electric meters. The city will also contact any customer issues by phone, although Avista Edge will be available to assist if needed.
Otherwise, both Schuller and Gustafson said the city’s taxpayers are not subsidizing Avista Edge’s services.
‘The proof is in the pudding,’ said Gustafson, ‘we certainly want to make the case and actually execute it and take care of it. That is why we are conducting pilots and not just launching the entire city at once. We want to make sure we do it really well and get the feedback from the customers.”