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Lighting up the Discovery Corridor with Dark Fiber

Business and daily life today routinely connects through the internet, but fast and reliable high-speed internet still doesn’t exist in large swaths of the United States. Bringing such services to these areas is a “chicken or egg” situation: internet providers are reluctant to supply broadband infrastructure and services unless a business case can be proven, but businesses are reluctant to move to a community if the services are not there. In established communities and businesses, it’s expensive to tear up existing roads and utilities—a further disincentive for internet providers to install high-speed internet unless there’s a proven business case.

The “Discovery Corridor,” an area along Interstate 5 around the Port of Ridgefield in Clark County, Washington, suffered from poor internet access, affecting schools, emergency services, businesses, and homes. The Port wanted to ensure solid communication infrastructure exists to attract businesses and support communities now and in the future. Part of the Port’s plan is to tap into “dark fiber” infrastructure.

Dark fiber is a privately operated fiber-optic network that its operator directly installs and runs. An internet supplier then leases or purchases that network to provide broadband access. It’s a “kick start” for a community for widespread high-speed broadband internet.

The Port of Ridgefield hired BergerABAM to do a needs assessment/feasibility study to show whether there is need for such an infrastructure for the Discovery Corridor. This assessment documented the following.

• Current and future broadband and bandwidth needs
• Fiber infrastructure industry trends
• Case studies of related economic change
• Benefits from the service

Among the findings were

• The majority of stakeholders in the Corridor identified broadband as the most important business need in the area.
• Installed broadband would assist new technologies that would integrate with the manufacturing, health care, agriculture, government, education, and small businesses that make up nearly 60 percent of the Corridor’s economy.
• Broadband would enable employees to work locally, which is important because in the last 10 years, the city of Ridgefield’s population has doubled.
• Other rural port agencies’ dark fiber attracted, retained, and developed businesses, a medical information network, and economic partnerships locally and globally. Innovations increased 55 percent over the last five years compared to the average over the previous decade.

This study strongly suggests the Port can move forward as it assesses resources, funding, and ultimate return on investment, with significant economic benefits overall for the Ridgefield area.

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