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. As such in October 2022, the Port and PUD published the Whatcom PUD Broadband Feasibility Study. This feasibility study analyzes the need and cost of building infrastructure to southern and western Whatcom County.
The Port is current working on constructing a open access fiber project in East Nooksack that was funded in partnership between the Port, the County and the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) The Port is excited to be able to provide quality high speed broadband to rural Whatcom County. The Port anticipates fiber to begin to hung by the end summer.
The Port of Bellingham is in the process of applying for two broadband construction grants: Washington State Broadband Office and a CERB grant.
FCC National Broadband Map: An Opportunity to Comment
The recently released FCC National Broadband Map attempts to show internet service availability for every location in the country. The public is encouraged to review the map as it relates to their location. Having accurate information for every location is critical to future funding and construction of new or upgraded service statewide. It is not uncommon that the data listed on the FCC map is not representative of the actual service received.
People can verify or challenge the accuracy of the map from their residence or at a public location with computer access (i.e., library computers, booths with laptops/ tablets at community events or in businesses etc.). Verifying or challenging this data could give people a chance to provide valuable input, especially if you suspect the FCC map is inaccurate.
What can you do?
Follow the step-by-step guide to review and verify or challenge the FCC National Broadband Map: https://www.commerce.wa.gov/building-infrastructure/washington-statewide-broadband-act/fcc-broadband-mapping/
The deadline is January 13, 2023.
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.