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.
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.
The Port's fiber development project is needed to help retain and attract business, Holmberg continued. The availability of high-speed Internet connectivity is especially important to modern industries that depend on being able to transmit and receive large amounts of data.
Holmberg told us:
"Businesses [in the Port] complain they can't get the bandwidth or speeds they need, and are excited about the opportunity that they see in our system. As an anecdote, Washington State University Vancouver - at the south end of our planned loop - has a need to send 1 Terabyte (over 1,000 Gigabytes of data) of research to the main campus in Pullman, Washington once a week. Because they don't have the bandwith they need, they are literally downloading to a hard drive and overnighting the hard drive to Pullman."
Keeping Up With The Speed Of Dark Fiber
Port of Ridgefield is among a growing number of communities that are seeking to make high-speed Internet connectivity available to businesses and providers via dark fiber, i.e. fiber optic cable that is not currently active or “lit.” In the Northwest, the Idaho towns of Port of Lewiston, Port of Clarkston, and Port of Whitman are working together to use dark fiber assets for commercial connectivity via a similar open access model.
As more communities in the region invest in essential Internet infrastructure, those that don’t have publicly owned networks or private providers to provide high-speed connectivity in their communities will be disadvantaged.
“Accessible and reliable high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity is a critical component of successful economic development activity in our region,” said [Columbia River Economic Development Council president, Mike] Bomar.
“Our region’s ability to add fiber connectivity to our list of business amenities will provide a direct competitive advantage to our existing companies and in our ongoing work to attract and recruit new enterprise into the area across a diverse array of industries.”