By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

Published: July 21, 2016, 9:53 PM The Columbian

Not all internet service is created equal, and the Port of Ridgefield is working to ensure its district has speeds dramatically faster than just about anywhere else.

The port is planning to build a fiber optic network that will be able to move as much data as a service provider can handle.

“The ability to move large amounts of data very quickly anywhere in the world — that is becoming a measure of the infrastructure you have to have if you’re going to attract companies that attract top talent,” said Brent Grening, Port of Ridgefield’s CEO. “How do we do that if we don’t work at the speed of business today?”

It’s called a dark fiber network because the port won’t be the one lighting it. Internet service providers will lease use of the network to light up the lines. The port plans to build a number of huts along the network that will be leased to service providers as storage for computer servers.

“The challenge here is to light a community up takes a lot of money. If a public entity can come and put some of that infrastructure in place, the service providers can come in at a much lower entry,” Grening said.

The 42-mile, 288-fiber network will extend though the Discovery Corridor beyond the port’s district boundaries. It will include everything from Ilani, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s casino to the north, and Washington State University Vancouver and Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in the south. To the east, it will extend to Northeast 50th Avenue in Battle Ground and to the Ridgefield waterfront in the west.

“We’re designing it to facilitate the industries we’ve already been recruiting (for the Discovery Corridor). That includes advanced composites, health care, software development and light industry,” said Nelson Holmberg, vice president of innovation at Port of Ridgefield.

“We know that health care is one of the industries using a lot of data and is going to use a lot more data,” he added.

The Discovery Corridor, which stretches from WSU Vancouver to the Cowlitz casino, was first designated in 1999 by local officials as an area pegged by business and community leaders for aggressive economic and residential growth.

The system is expected to cost $2.1 million, but the port has added 15 percent contingency to the budget for a total of $2.4 million. To keep costs down, two-thirds of the fiber loop will be built on existing overhead poles. The rest will be buried.

To safeguard against potential service outages, the system will be built with redundancy as a key component.

“Redundancy is a really important part. If the sensors that monitor (the fiber) pick up a break … they can send the data back the opposite way,” Holmberg said.

The system is being modeled on the fiber optic network laid by the Port of Whitman County, which has been in place for the last 16 years.

Currently that port has 17 private companies using its network and has seen strong return on its investment.

Other cities, including Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, provide fiber optic connectivity, as well.