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Spokane

Deal keeps rural Internet alive

Thu., Nov. 10, 2011

Companies, counties reach tower-use pact

Commissioners in two counties met in joint session this week to prevent a lengthy Internet service interruption for customers of two Spokane-area companies.

Medical Lake-based EcliptixNet Broadband and Spokane-based Pass Word Inc. will be allowed to continue using a Tum Tum-area law enforcement radio tower from which they were to have been evicted today.

An agreement hammered out Tuesday in a conference call among Spokane and Stevens county commissioners will enable EcliptixNet and Pass Word to keep using the public tower until one they are building nearby is ready next summer.

The companies are business partners and together serve about 550 customers in small communities in northern Spokane County and much of Stevens County. Most of the users faced loss of service as long as eight months, and many of them attended the Colville half of Tuesday’s joint meeting.

A dispute over rent was at the heart of the issue, which was complicated by the fact that Spokane County is building a new emergency communications tower on property owned by Stevens County.

The existing tower, on Scoop Mountain, 4½ miles north of Tum Tum, is owned by Stevens County.

A shutdown would have blacked out all of EcliptixNet’s customers, from Springdale to Northport, and many of Pass Word’s customers in northern Spokane County and southern Stevens County.

Now, service will be interrupted only a day or two while the new tower is tested later this month.

EcliptixNet had been using the old tower free and Pass Word had been paying $300 a month under an arrangement with a company that previously managed the tower for Stevens County.

The county insisted on receiving market rent when it assumed direct management of the tower. County officials noted the state constitution prohibits gifts of public assets for private gain.

EcliptixNet negotiated the county’s $1,500-a-month price down to $500, but talks between Pass Word and Stevens County broke down after several temporary lease extensions. The reasons are disputed.

“We’re very happy with the outcome,” said Jeff Tamietti, EcliptixNet’s co-owner and chief executive.

EcliptixNet and Pass Word have been awarded $20.5 million to build 18 new towers that will enable EcliptixNet to expand its broadband service area from southern Spokane County to the Canadian border in both Stevens and Ferry counties.

Seventy percent of the money, about $14.3 million, is a grant and the rest is a loan.



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