The Port of Ridgefield has been making headway in its efforts to develop high-speed dark fiber infrastructure for the benefit of Ridgefield area citizens and businesses. For many, the term “dark fiber” is technical mumbo-jumbo that has no direct effect on their daily lives.
Nelson Holmberg, vice president, innovation for the port, knows otherwise. To help bring dark fiber out of the shadowy world of misunderstanding into the light of day, the port hosted a public information session on June 28 about the port’s fiber development project, and its significance to the Ridgefield community and beyond.
“Moving information at the highest speeds possible affects many aspects of the world we live in today,” Holmberg said. “And to be competitive in a global economy, having this technology available to our community is critical.”
Brent Grening, CEO for the Port of Ridgefield, was even more pointed in his comments.
“High-speed capacity has become a critical community infrastructure. Talent will not come, and talent that’s here will leave if we do not have it.”
A panel discussion was part of the program; panelists discussed the benefits and success of municipal development of dark fiber, and why the project is important to WSU-Vancouver and other private industries in the area.
Panelists were Joe Poire, chief executive officer, Port of Whitman County; Michael Stamper, chief information officer, Washington State University Vancouver; and Mike Bomar, president, Columbia River Economic Development Council.
For the last 16 years, Poire has been pioneering the development of dark fiber optic infrastructure in Southeastern Washington. Over the years, the Port of Whitman County dark fiber optics system has grown to reach from Spokane to Lewiston, Idaho, with 17 private companies operating different business lines – from internet service and telecommunications to cable television and industry – that has provided extensive creation of business opportunity, and jobs, in rural Whitman County.
At the event, Poire pointed out the increasing significance of businesses that deal in intellectual property.
“Businesses that trade in ideas and information are worth more than those dealing in tangible products,” he said.
Poire pointed out that $2 billion in infrastructure development is needed to serve the U.S. market right now, but that internet companies have higher better use for their capital than spending it to serve small markets.
He noted it takes five to six megabits of bandwidth to watch a movie, but the federal minimum standard, delivered via DSL service, is three megabits.
“We can’t wait for legislation that might change that standard to help our small communities.”
When asked about whether the Port of Whitman County faced opposition from broadband companies, Poire said that did happen early on, because they thought the port was competing with them.
“Now we get lots of calls, they want to collaborate with us.”
Stamper, a Ridgefield resident, serves as lead information technology officer for WSU Vancouver, collaborating with the Chancellor, Chancellor’s Cabinet, Academic and Administrative leaders, and IT divisions at other campuses within the WSU system by providing vision and leadership for the effective use of higher education technology to enhance the learning experience for WSU Vancouver students, faculty, and community. He is also an adjunct professor in the Creative Media & Digital Culture program at WSU Vancouver.
Stamper identified high-speed fiber as a need at WSU-Vancouver, and spearheaded planning for a campus-wide fiber upgrade, but bumped into a major roadblock.
“We found we can’t get higher capacity speed to our campus,” he said.
Stamper told the audience that WSU Vancouver students are a little older than traditional students, and therefore need flexibility. And like most students, are seeking reduced costs in education. They also expect hybrid education, in which there is a combination of class room and online instruction.
“WSU wants to provide education at lower costs, but if the information is stored in the Cloud, the school and students can’t access it if we don’t have high-speed capacity,” said Stamper.
Stamper said WSU Vancouver has one gigabyte serving its campus, but today’s education standards demand more.
“WSU excels at developing online video courses, but it falls flat when the connection is lost.”
Stamper noted that at WSU’s Pullman campus there is high-speed capacity because of Port of Whitman County’s fiber project.
“But here, we have to ship a terabyte of research data to Pullman each week for processing via FedEx – on a hard drive.”
Stamper also pointed out that WSU’s new medical school in Spokane will mean some of those students will come to WSU-Vancouver for part of their education.
“It will be good to have those students in the area, but we need high-speed internet for medical school education. I need to get it as soon as possible.”
Another Ridgefield resident, Bomar has been the President of CREDC since 2013. In his day-to-day work, his goal is to grow and manage the most effective business organization in Southwest Washington and to promote the building industry and economy of the region.
Bomar’s words mirrored Poire’s in emphasizing that the “knowledge economy” and the need to serve its businesses is critical.
“Customized health care, research and education require high speed to process data and to deliver information,” he said. “Education, especially, needs seamless interaction with the institution”.
Bomar also pointed out the high speed capacity needs of government include services such as online permitting, virtual and video inspections save money and time for both government and the people and businesses they serve.
In summarizing, Bomar told event participants that every business is global, and that whether a business is large or small, the global economy is good for business.
“Access to broadband provides opportunity.”
Port gains more knowledge
To get even more up to speed themselves, Port of Ridgefield CEO Brent Grening and Holmberg attended the Fiber to the Home Council conference held June 13-15 in Nashville, Tenn. At the event, titled FTTH Connect 2016, the port duo had the opportunity to learn from industry experts and successful network operators, who discussed the latest solutions available to help overcome deployment challenges, and how municipalities can effectively monetize a high-speed fiber network.
One speaker at the Nashville event was Ted Smith, chief innovation officer for the City of Louisville, Ky. Louisville developed its fiber network in 2014. Smith is a believer that fiber infrastructure development is a good investment for cities and ports. Unlike some municipal endeavors that can be controversial, fiber isn’t one of them.
“There is nobody who is against faster, cheaper Internet,” Smith said.
He also said that video, internet and new apps are driving bandwidth increases that require fiber.
“Fiber optic technology is the best way to provide low cost, high bandwidth”.
In Louisville, developers see fiber as “one of the most important things differentiating themselves in the market”.
How the port got involved in fiber development
The Port of Ridgefield made the decision to research the idea of developing a dark fiber network last year after learning about the success of a similar project undertaken by Whitman County 16 years ago.
The existence of its fiber network has helped private sector communications companies reduce their capital investment outlays, has attracted quality companies that provide living-wage jobs, and assist public sector entities deliver educational and healthcare services more cost-effectively.
The port has completed the design phase of the fiber installation project, and mapping was completed in mid-June. Holmberg is optimistic the demand for fiber leasing will be significant.
“We continue to get calls from private enterprise; there is keen interest in our project”.
- High-speed Internet to area residents and businesses will be available through privately owned and operated service providers, creating business opportunity for entrepreneurs.
- Makes Ridgefield more attractive to technology-oriented businesses; they rank the presence of fiber as a key differentiator in location decisions.
- Provides the port a clean, environmentally sound revenue stream not dependent on local taxes.
- Allows for the growth of important research to be done at WSU Vancouver.
- Provides state-of-the-art infrastructure that is increasingly needed in growing communities with demand for connectivity.
What the Port of Ridgefield WILL do
- Invest in the dark fiber infrastructure
- Subcontract installation and maintenance of the fiber network to experienced companies
What the Port of Ridgefield will NOT do
- Compete with other service providers
- Provide internet services to residents or businesses
Do you need high-speed internet? The port is very interested in your need for this kind of infrastructure in our community. Please share your story about how reliable high speed broadband would help your business grow, or how it would change your life by emailing NHolmberg@portridgefield.org, or comment on our Facebook page.