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For more than two years, officials from the Port of Ridgefield in Washington have planned for better connectivity by deploying dark fiber. This month, they took a significant step by issuing a Request for Information (RFI) for Partnership as they search for entities interested in leasing dark fiber to bring services to the community. Responses are due March 15, 2019.
Rural or Not
In the spring of 2018, Washington’s elected officials eliminated a barrier that prevented the Port of Ridgefield from taking the final steps to completing their vision by passing HB 2664. The legislation removed a restriction that only allowed rural ports to use their fiber infrastructure for the types of partnership agreements that the Port of Ridgefield is now seeking. The “rural” limitation meant that Ridgefield and more populous ports could not use their fiber infrastructure to enter into partnerships for service to people or entities. With approximately 7,000 people in and around the city of Ridgefield, the Port of Ridgefield was not considered “rural.”
Officials from the Port of Ridgefield, the city of Ridgefield and other ports in Washington lobbied to have the law changed so they could provide wholesale services to interested Internet access companies. Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill in March 2018. While the primary goals of the RFI focus on improving connectivity within the port district, the Port also prominently includes, "The Port hopes this initiative will support and accelerate private providers’ efforts to improve broadband service options in the County."
The Port and the Plan
In March, Washington state legislators passed HB 2664 and sent it on to Governor Jay Inslee, who signed the bill on March 22nd. In the Port of Ridgefield, where the community has been developing plans for a dark fiber network, the community had advocated for the change. Now that the law will be changing for the better, they’re ready to pursue the partnerships they need to spur economic development and improve connectivity for residents and businesses.
Not A New Idea In The Port Of Ridgefield
Back in 2016, we reported how town officials from the Port of Ridgefield had already started setting aside funds to invest in a 42-mile dark fiber loop. The quality of residential and business Internet access options in the community depended on where a premise was located. The community’s Vice President of Innovation Nelson Holmberg described connectivity in the Port of Ridgefield as a “mixed bag”.
The port already had some fiber in place, as many do for communications between facilities and other uses, and port officials wanted to integrate those assets into the design of the new infrastructure. At the time, state law would only allow "rural" ports to use their fiber in any partnership agreements designed to offer connectivity to people or entities outside of the port districts. The Port of Ridgefield did not qualify as "rural". After advocacy from officials from the Port of Ridgefield and other ports around the state, legislators passed HB 2664, which amends the law to remove the restriction. All ports will soon be able to enter into wholesale arrangements with ISPs interested in leasing dark fiber to offer telecommunications services to the public.
Big Plans In Ridgefield
Ridgefield, Washington, a community of about 4,800 located about 25 miles north of Portland, is one step closer to establishing a dark fiber network for the Port of Ridgefield after taking advantage of state funding for community revitalization. On September 15, the state’s Community Economic Revitalization Board approved a $50,000 grant for the project, and the city has approved matching funds to initiate the planning process.
“A unanimous decision by the board to award us the grant in the full amount we applied for is much appreciated,” Port of Ridgefield vice president of innovation Nelson Holmberg said. “It recognizes our disciplined approach and smart policy we’ve established as we work to ‘light up’ the Discovery Corridor.”
As planned, the dark fiber infrastructure would include the Ridgefield Port District (also called the Discovery Corridor), reaching the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center and Washington State University Vancouver. While the port is not interested in operating the infrastructure, several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be able to compete to provide services through leasing space on the public fiber network.
The Port of Ridgefield is planning to build a municipal open access dark fiber-optic network that could provide access to high-speed Internet connectivity for the Washington state community of 4,800. 7,000
Town officials held a public informational meeting in late June to update residents and businesses on the fiber project, which is still in the planning stage. Estimated cost of the proposed 42-mile fiber backbone is $2.4 million, Nelson Holmberg, Port of Ridgefield vice-president of innovation, told us.
Currently, the Port has budgeted $500,000 from town funds for this year’s portion of the project, the Vancouver Business Journal recently reported. Holmberg told us:
"We are moving forward with construction design and policy work. The Port will not be the operator, nor will it offer service on the backbone. Retail service will be offered by the [Internet Service] providers who ride on our fiber. We're simply building the infrastructure and making it available to providers."
Holmberg told us that a firm construction timeline has yet to be set. According to the Business Journal, the Port of Ridgefield will make use of existing assets and take advantage of opportunities to reduce costs. The Port hopes to work with Clark Public Utilities and the Clark Regional Wastewater District to plant conduit whenever there is new trenching and pull fiber through conduit that is already in place.
A Mixed Bag
Currently, Internet service in the Port is a "mixed bag," Holmberg told us, with the offerings including Comcast Business, Comcast or CenturyLink to the home, satellite and point-to-point wireless and even dial-up.