Washington State wireless broadband provider partners with rural PUDs to offer service: It's a natural match to let the PUDs further serve their farflung constituents, while providing the WISP with a much lower infrastructure cost, which in turn allows them to build a profitable footprint much more readily.
Maverick Wireless, founded by a former T-Mobile data manager, is starting in rural Washington State, with plans to expand to the sparsely populated Eastern Oregon. He plans 20 networks by year's end through these PUD partnerships. The utility districts install what sounds like the tower (and electrical power) for the wireless stations. In the case described, the utility already has a fiber-optic loop for backhaul. Maverick handles customer issues, like customer premises installation and billing, and splits the revenue with the PUD.
Although the article says the system uses Wi-Fi, I would guess it's a proprietary unlicensed system of the sort that will eventually migrate to WiMax.
The article makes an implicit connection worth noting explicitly: they point out that the 1 Mbps speed that Maverick will offer is faster than most average cable modem and DSL speeds. Two items here: first, they should have noted that DSL and usually cable modems are totally unavailable in rural areas.
Even in Seattle proper, if you go a certain distance outside the city (just a few miles, really), you're stuck at 128 Kbps iDSL (an ISDN-like version of DSL). If you don't have a cable line to your house already, it can cost thousands to get one brought in.
A colleague of mine recently moved to the suburb/exurb boundary. When looking for a house, he and his wife did a lot of data surveying since he needs to move large files around for his freelance work. One good-looking house was scratched when DSL possibilities were low to non-existent for the central office serving the area, and installing cable would have cost $5,000 or more. And this is about 20 minutes from downtown Seattle by highway.