People rely on high speed internet access for education, employment, health care, economic opportunities, public health, safety and other essential services. High speed broadband is increasingly recognized as an essential utility like water, sewer and electricity. However, significant portions of rural Whatcom County still lack access to affordable high speed internet, and the private sector has been reluctant to extend broadband infrastructure to rural areas due to the high cost and limited number of potential paying subscribers. The Port, recognizing the importance of broadband to economic and community development, developed a Broadband Feasibility Study for Rural Whatcom County in 2019 to evaluate the need for broadband investments. The Port also began developing the local, state and federal partnerships necessary to overcome this tremendous challenge.
The Port and the Public Utility District (PUD) both have the authority to develop broadband networks and provide broadband services, and have formed a partnership to support the extension of broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas in Whatcom County. The Port and PUD work collaboratively through a Broadband Steering Committee on policy, strategies, and funding opportunities.
The Port of Bellingham and five other Ports created this joint operating LLC, whose purpose is to work together on statewide business opportunities and broadband policy. Partner Ports include the Port of Skagit, Kalama, Pasco, Ridgefield, and Whitman County. Petrichor Broadband works to improve operational efficiencies by allowing members and partners to contract for fiber management services with six Ports and avoid duplication of staff and efforts. Petrichor also helps port districts advocate and facilitate broadband access for rural areas throughout the state. "Petrichor" is defined as the earthy, sweet smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.
The Port of Bellingham is in the process of applying for two broadband construction grants: a Public Works grant and a CERB grant.