On July 22, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Electricity and Southwestern Power Administration, WAPA published a report exploring the feasibility of leasing currently unlit fiber optic strands, also known as “dark" fiber, to the power marketing administrations' customers or third parties.
In support of the Administration's American Broadband Initiative, the Fiber Optics Feasibility Assessment: Western Area Power Administration and Southwestern Power Administration examines the risks and opportunities of providing broadband internet services using WAPA's and SWPA's existing transmission and fiber optics infrastructure.
“WAPA supports exploring the potential for expanded use of its unallocated fiber while remaining committed to protecting customer investments," said Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel. “We will ensure that any fiber partnerships do not impact our mission of delivering power in a reliable, resilient, cost-based and secure manner."
With the publication of the report, WAPA will embark on a pilot project with three of its existing power customers in California and Colorado to examine potential fiber partnerships that facilitate the customers' fiber needs and fit within WAPA's statutory mission and authorities.
WAPA remains committed to ensuring that the beneficiary of fiber services is responsible for paying any related costs.
WAPA owns, operates and maintains about 5,000 miles of overhead fiber optic ground wire on its transmission system to communicate with its electric equipment across eleven states. Some of the fiber is uncommitted, leaving some capacity unused.
The feasibility assessment stems from the American Broadband Initiative Milestones Report, released in February 2019, which detailed the Administration's strategy to identify and remove barriers to broadband access and leverage public assets and resources to expand America's broadband infrastructure capacity.
WAPA sought input from its customers during the development of the report and found that customers support WAPA's current fiber partnership practice of making dark fiber available for electric utility use. Customers were also cautiously interested in other fiber uses, such as broadband internet service. Some of the potential benefits they identified included augmenting rural customer revenues, advancing WAPA's network capabilities while improving the resilience of WAPA's transmission system, and strengthening communication systems for rural emergency services and healthcare providers.
“In this dynamic energy frontier, WAPA must continuously evaluate how it can best support its customers now and in the future," said Gabriel.