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Port plans to build faster internet access for rural areas

Port plans to build faster internet access for rural areas
Powerlines stretch from Nugent’s Corner toward Deming against the backdrop of the Twin Sisters Range. Segment one of a proposed broadband network will span 40.5 miles from Bellingham to Glacier. (Mathew Roland)

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Filed on 31. May, 2019 in Contents, News

By Mathew Roland

The Port of Bellingham has a plan to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas of Whatcom County, including a 113-mile, $6.8 million system of fiber optic cable to deliver affordable, high-speed internet to sparsely populated areas.

Recently the port received $750,000 in grants from the county Economic Development Investment Program to fund one of three segments, said Gina Stark, port economic development project manager. The port completed a feasibility study this spring after receiving a $50,000 grant from the state Community Economic Revitalization Board. The port has also applied for $1.1 million in grants from the state Department of Commerce Community Economic Revitalization Board.

“The lacking telecommunications infrastructure is affecting overall growth in the area,” Stark said. “I definitely think the network will increase the overall economic health of the region.”

In addition to working closely with stakeholders such as schools, small businesses, telecommunication services and emergency services, the port has partnered with Public Utility District No. 1 of Whatcom County.

It’s a good opportunity for both public agencies to work for the betterment of the community, said Steve Jilk, general manager of the PUD. Both agencies anticipate that stakeholders will benefit from faster more affordable internet.

Segment one of the new fiber network is from Bellingham to Cedarville and from Cedarville east to Glacier and Limestone Junction. Segment one stretches 40.5 miles and is estimated to cost $2.3 million. Segment one will be strung from existing utility poles.

Segment two will be 36.4 miles and run from Nugent’s Corner north to Nooksack and then west to Haynie, Blaine, Birch Bay and Lummi. Segment two is estimated to cost $2,508,302 and will also be strung from existing poles.

Segment three will be 21.7 miles and run from Deming south to Sedro-Woolley, connecting Whatcom and Skagit counties. Segment three is estimated to cost $2,963,469 and will be buried.

Additional infrastructure will spur off the main segments to provide internet access throughout the county. Roughly 80% of the new fiber construction will be strung from existing telephone poles, while the remainder be buried.

The new system will allow for fiber to be leased to a variety of internet service providers at 0.02 cents per foot. Additional internet service providers would give residents, schools and businesses more choices in price and plan.

Nathan Stuart has been working in tech services for more than 20 years and is a managed service provider. His business provides information technology services to other companies and uses a lot of online programs for work. Stuart lives in the Custer area and works remotely. Having choices between internet service providers is an important factor to him because he doesn’t really have one, Stuart said.

Stuart pays $130 a month for satellite internet, which is slower than landline internet in Bellingham. Someone living in the downtown area might pay $60 for high-speed internet and have greater of choice of internet service providers.

“High-speed internet at our location would definitely make our operations more efficient and save a ton of money,” Stuart said.

Businesses that lack fast and affordable internet miss out on potential growth. For example, training for small businesses in international e-commerce can be difficult to access with a slow internet connection, Stark said.

“If you have slow internet, how are you going to even begin to enter that new market base?” she said. “It’s putting our rural businesses at a disadvantage to our businesses in Bellingham by barring them from that market.”

Once the network is built, the port plans to see a return on investment after 15 years for segments one and two, Stark said. Segment three has a slightly longer return on investment because the construction is underground and the required permits are more costly.

The port is currently identifying pre-construction steps for the project, such as acquiring permits and working with Puget Sound Energy on the process of hanging new fiber cable. “There is so much potential economic growth and efficient opportunity,” Jilk said. “Access to high speed internet is just the world that’s coming.”

The Port of Bellingham has a plan to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas of Whatcom County, including a 113-mile, $6.8 million system of fiber optic cable to deliver affordable, high-speed internet to sparsely populated areas.

Recently the port received $750,000 in grants from the county Economic Development Investment Program to fund one of three segments, said Gina Stark, port economic development project manager. The port completed a feasibility study this spring after receiving a $50,000 grant from the state Community Economic Revitalization Board. The port has also applied for $1.1 million in grants from the state Department of Commerce Community Economic Revitalization Board.

“The lacking telecommunications infrastructure is affecting overall growth in the area,” Stark said. “I definitely think the network will increase the overall economic health of the region.”

In addition to working closely with stakeholders such as schools, small businesses, telecommunication services and emergency services, the port has partnered with Public Utility District No. 1 of Whatcom County.

It’s a good opportunity for both public agencies to work for the betterment of the community, said Steve Jilk, general manager of the PUD. Both agencies anticipate that stakeholders will benefit from faster more affordable internet.

Segment one of the new fiber network is from Bellingham to Cedarville and from Cedarville east to Glacier and Limestone Junction. Segment one stretches 40.5 miles and is estimated to cost $2.3 million. Segment one will be strung from existing utility poles.

Segment two will be 36.4 miles and run from Nugent’s Corner north to Nooksack and then west to Haynie, Blaine, Birch Bay and Lummi. Segment two is estimated to cost $2,508,302 and will also be strung from existing poles.

Segment three will be 21.7 miles and run from Deming south to Sedro-Woolley, connecting Whatcom and Skagit counties. Segment three is estimated to cost $2,963,469 and will be buried.

Additional infrastructure will spur off the main segments to provide internet access throughout the county. Roughly 80% of the new fiber construction will be strung from existing telephone poles, while the remainder be buried.

The new system will allow for fiber to be leased to a variety of internet service providers at 0.02 cents per foot. Additional internet service providers would give residents, schools and businesses more choices in price and plan.

Nathan Stuart has been working in tech services for more than 20 years and is a managed service provider. His business provides information technology services to other companies and uses a lot of online programs for work. Stuart lives in the Custer area and works remotely. Having choices between internet service providers is an important factor to him because he doesn’t really have one, Stuart said.

Stuart pays $130 a month for satellite internet, which is slower than landline internet in Bellingham. Someone living in the downtown area might pay $60 for high-speed internet and have greater of choice of internet service providers.

“High-speed internet at our location would definitely make our operations more efficient and save a ton of money,” Stuart said.

Businesses that lack fast and affordable internet miss out on potential growth. For example, training for small businesses in international e-commerce can be difficult to access with a slow internet connection, Stark said.

“If you have slow internet, how are you going to even begin to enter that new market base?” she said. “It’s putting our rural businesses at a disadvantage to our businesses in Bellingham by barring them from that market.”

Once the network is built, the port plans to see a return on investment after 15 years for segments one and two, Stark said. Segment three has a slightly longer return on investment because the construction is underground and the required permits are more costly.

The port is currently identifying pre-construction steps for the project, such as acquiring permits and working with Puget Sound Energy on the process of hanging new fiber cable. “There is so much potential economic growth and efficient opportunity,” Jilk said. “Access to high speed internet is just the world that’s coming.”

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bGk+PHN0cm9uZz53b29fc2xpZGVyX2hlYWRpbmc8L3N0cm9uZz4gLSBSZWNlbnQgbmV3czwvbGk+PGxpPjxzdHJvbmc+d29vX3RoZW1lbmFtZTwvc3Ryb25nPiAtIFRoZSBKb3VybmFsPC9saT48L3VsPg==