Open access dark fiber optic beneficial to North Clark County

A market-driven setting keeps quality high and costs low for Port of Ridgefield infrastructure project

Imagine a place where your mobile phone works the way it’s advertised to work – or your refrigerator can communicate with you while you’re at the grocery store.

Imagine an environment where you, as a business owner or site selector, could choose from as many as 14 or 15 different companies to get broadband service from. A market-driven setting keeps quality very high, and costs low. If the market demands gig speeds, the market can get gig speeds because the infrastructure will exist.

That place could be North Clark County due to open access dark fiber optic infrastructure that will be built by the Port of Ridgefield and operated by multiple private sector players.

Open access is really the magic. It gives end users choice, improves service and reduces costs for service. It also makes a market for the private sector partners that provide service to their customers.

“Dark fiber” is simply the infrastructure – fiber optic cable, vaults, splice cases, huts, security, HVAC and backup power – needed to provide the kind of high capacity, redundant fiber optic backbone that is needed to create new jobs in North Clark County.

No light. No content. No electronics. Just the infrastructure – open to all players who might be interested in providing internet services to the area. Our private sector partners will take care of the rest and bring the service to you.

In a purely “dark” system, like the Port of Ridgefield will build infrastructure that will be leased from the port by the private sector, which will “light” the fiber and serve the content that its customers need to grow their businesses, or to locate in Southwest Washington.

It’s kind of like a water system. The public sector builds the pipes for distribution and transmission of the water, and the private sector attaches pumps and faucets to either end, and flows water through the system to its end users. The private partner serves the end user, while the public partner capitalizes the infrastructure over time, with patience that others cannot sustain. It’s a win-win-win, for the public and private partners, as well as the end user, who may not otherwise have seen infrastructure built by the private sector.

You see, broadband providers promise lots of great “up to” speeds, but costs can quickly get out of control. Many areas, even in high-density Vancouver, are getting speeds limited to 175 megabytes per second (download, and 12 mbps upload) – in areas advertised as “up to 400 mbps.” Gigabyte speed service is said to be available throughout most of Clark County, but cost keeps most from subscribing.

That’s really the goal.

We live in a world that is increasing its reliance on broadband as a critical business amenity, without infrastructure that supports that kind of demand – even in most of the state’s higher-density urban areas.

It should be said that it is certainly appropriate for a private sector company to invest in areas that provide them the best and quickest return on their capital investment possible. As far as serving our constituents across a broad, mostly very rural area, it really does not work. There is a reason why public entities today handle water, sewer, road and transit systems as publicly owned operations: They are incredibly difficult to make pencil on a short ROI cycle.

Broadband is no different.

For more than a century, public port districts in Washington have invested in bringing infrastructure to areas that lack them. It’s our mission to spark economic growth and community prosperity that drives us that way.

It’s working.

Today, access to high-speed, high-capacity broadband that is reliable, redundant and resilient is just as necessary as roads, electricity or water are to a modern business.

Without modern telecommunications infrastructure, we cannot access the top technology that the global economy is advancing and using. We have heard it time and time again. From residents who are frustrated about a lack of choice, businesses considering moving to the Discovery Corridor and home-based startups that need other options for their digital transport.

The Port of Ridgefield – as it is chartered to do – is filling the gap for economic prosperity.

Nelson Holmberg is vice president of Innovation at the Port of Ridgefield and has a decade of experience in ports and economic development. He also advocates for business as a board member at the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.