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Washington Communities See Millions In New Rural Broadband Grants
The Port Of Whitman County is one of several rural Washington communities set to nab another major infusion of broadband grants courtesy of federal Covid disaster relief. A fresh infusion of $1.1 million announced last week will help the County expand a five city (Palouse, Garfield, Oakesdale, Tekoa and Rosalia) fiber expansion project to 104 unserved homes.
In partnership with Ziply Fiber, the Port will bring fiber connectivity to those homes that were not included in the first phase of the project. According to city officials, construction will begin in the fall 2023 and be complete by spring 2024.
It’s part of a broader $121 million in new broadband grant awards doled out by the Washington State Broadband Office to expand access to affordable broadband service across traditionally underserved portions of the state. All told, the new awards will be used to fund more than 19 different projects, bringing improved broadband access to nearly 15,000 state residents.
“These grants will provide initial service availability to 14,794 end users located across the state, in communities as diverse as the San Juan Islands, Kittitas County and the Spokane reservation,” Washington Broadband Office Director Mark Vasconi said of the latest round of funding.
Port of Lewiston Crossing Bridges: Network Forges Ahead
Port of Lewiston’s open access dark fiber network continues to move toward completion. Construction crews are burying fiber lines at multiple project sites around Lewiston. In the past few weeks, the network crossed to the north side of Clearwater River via the Memorial Bridge, where it will link to Whitman County’s fiber network.
A recent article from the Port of Lewiston listed completed sections of the network,
“So far, it reaches major employers such as St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, Lewis-Clark State College, Regence and the Vista Outdoor plant at 11th and Snake River avenues.”
The article also outlined the projects to be completed by September 1st,
“They will reach the industrial district by the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport, Clearwater Paper, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and the Southway Bridge. At the bridge, the lines will connect with an Asotin County network built by the Port of Clarkston.”
Questions From The Past
Memorial Bridge is only the first of two bridge crossings necessary for the completion of the Lewiston-Whitman-Asotin fiber network. The Southway Bridge crosses the Snake River to Asotin County. Conduit access rights stalled construction progress across the river. We wrote about the negotiations in a story from earlier this summer.
Readers may recall that there was a question with Centurylink's right to have conduit on the bridge and whether or not they owned the conduit or where the provider's potential ownership rights ended. To iron out the details, the Port of Lewiston filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the bridge builders.
Dark Fiber Available In Lewiston But Rivers Slow Expansion
The Port of Lewiston’s dark fiber network is up and running and now has connected a commercial customer, reports 4-Traders, but achieving the maximum reach has hit some resistance.
Warehousing and distribution company Inland 465, is operating a 150,000 square-foot warehouse and obtaining Internet access from First Step Internet, which leases dark fiber from the Port of Lewiston’s network. Community leaders hope this is the first of many commercial customers.
Last summer the community announced that they intended to deploy an open access dark fiber network to spur economic development opportunities. The network plan called for a connection to nearby Port of Whitman’s fiber network, which has operated for more than a decade.
Bumps On Bridges
According to 4-Traders, the Port of Lewiston is encountering issues deploying over the optimal route for expanding to serve more commercial clients. The community is near the Clearwater and Snake Rivers and must cross bridges en route to connect with nearby networks in the ports of Whitman County and Clarkston. Both communities have their own fiber networks and would like to connect to Lewiston’s new infrastructure. The collaborations would allow a larger loop and better redundancy for all three networks.
The Port of Whitman has an agreement with Cable One to use the provider's hangers on the bridge across the Clearwater River. In exchange, Cable One is allowed to access certain Port of Whitman County conduit on a different bridge. The state of Idaho issued the permit to Cable One to allow them to install the hangers and now the Port of Whitman County is applying to the state to have those same permits issued in its name. Once the Port of Whitman County has the permits, the Port of Lewiston will be able to use the hangers to connect to the Port of Whitman County network.
CenturyLink's Conduit...Or Is It?
Fiber Sailing into the Port of Lewiston, Idaho
The Port of Lewiston, the most inland seaport of the West Coast, will soon be deploying a dark fiber network, according to a July city media release. The network will serve several of the community's largest businesses, the medical center, the state college, and the airport. Although the plan calls for $950,000 to construct the network, port officials intend to have it operational by year’s end.
“This is what ports do, we develop infrastructure to support, attract and grow businesses in order to build a stronger economy,” said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld. “In today’s world, businesses must have adequate bandwidth and redundancy to remain competitive.”
The project has been highly supported by the nearby Port of Whitman County which already has maintained their own open access fiber network for over 10 years. Connecting a fiber line through the Port of Lewiston would create a loop, improving redundancy on the Port of Whitman County’s network. Better redundancy could prevent outages and ensure the ongoing reliability of the network.
The Port of Whitman’s network is fairly successful - just one section of the network near Pullman, Idaho makes $250,000 annually. The Port of Lewiston plans to follow the same open access model in designing and constructing its network which will run throughout the 32,000-person City of Lewiston.
The two ports are already collaborating on a different fiber line through North Lewiston. The Port of Lewiston is paying $30,000 for construction costs, and the Port of Whitman County will build and administer the network. This fiber line will later connect to the planned Port of Lewiston's open access network.