Port commissioners plead for dark fiber

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Camas-Washougal Harbor Commissioner John Spencer is concerned about the lack of reliable high-speed internet access for many residents of Clark County. He’s also concerned that he’s not seeing anyone doing anything about it.

“I have a general fear, to be dramatic, that I won’t see activity,” Spencer said at the September 15 virtual port meeting. “I always hear people talking about it, but I don’t see anyone intervening, which worries me. That’s why I’m talking about it. I start to think, “If no one else is doing this, should we?” But do we really have the capacity? Or is there a way to urge (Clark County Public Utilities) to do more? ‘ “

The commissioners asked the port’s general manager, David Ripp, to contact executives at Clark Public Utilities to discuss the problem, which is escalating during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced more people to work from home.

Dark fiber is fiber-optic infrastructure that is not yet “lighted up” or commissioned by a service provider. A dark fiber lease requires the customer rather than the service provider to maintain and operate the equipment necessary to “turn on” the fiber and use it for Internet access and communications.

In March 2018, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee enacted Substitute House Bill 2664, an act that gives Washington state port authorities the ability to develop open access broadband infrastructure for lease to all service providers. interested services.

“Legally, the port has the ability to manage, develop, build, lay, as you mean dark fiber,” Ripp said at the September 15 meeting. “We don’t have the legislative power to operate it, but we have the ability to install it in the ground or run it along power lines or whatever, and the goal would be, from that investment , to rent that line to Comcast, Ziply, or whoever would run it. (But) I’d like to see Clark Public Utilities take the lead if that is to happen.

“I would love to see CPU or someone other than us take the lead. My worry is that no one seems willing to do it, and if no one else is, I’m starting to think, “Well, someone has to do it,” Spencer added. “We don’t have dark fiber or broadband internet in our strategic plan as a focus. That said, it is really an economic development tool and therefore right in our wheelhouse. When it comes to a key issue for our community, it can’t get much bigger than this. “

Commissioner Cassi Marshall agreed, saying the lack of reliable broadband internet service is “a huge problem”.

“I totally agree that this is crucial for the economic development of our region, especially with everyone who works from home and the challenges that come with it for people who don’t have high internet. debit, ”she said. “It’s a matter of fairness and extremely important at all levels. Honestly, I haven’t really thought about our role. I think we should support it regionally in any way we can with the entity that is tackling it, but I would need to learn a lot more before knowing what our role is.

Commissioner Larry Keister also said he would like more information before deciding how the port should proceed in this matter.

“We want to support the community for economic developments and future benefits, but (we would have to determine) the need from a port perspective, for our tenants and future tenants, and to support whoever is involved or leading this (effort)” , he said. “I think it’s the responsibility of Clark County Public Utility. We must be united. (But) it’s expensive and we have a lot of it on our plate right now.

Camas Town Communications Director Bryan Rachal told port leaders that “while we understand the importance of broadband, it’s not necessarily our top priority for what we’re working on right now. in the sense that we have an upcoming election, a new administrator, a new mayor and a bunch of other things on the file that we are focusing on.

Washougal resident and business owner Martha Martin has expressed her strong support for improving internet service, saying the topic “has been on everyone’s mind for a long time.”

“I know rural areas are underserved and underserved,” she said. “I work in a rural area; I’m coming to you via Ziply DSL right now, and it’s coming down steadily. It is unreliable. Just because there aren’t many people doesn’t mean the need isn’t so great. We have people here who use Zoom for their medical appointments. I am serving all online clients at this point; there is no one in my office yet. Mental health, medical health, school, it’s important. I know how important this is to people not only in the city, not just in the harbor buildings, but all around your neighborhood, which is huge.


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