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Washington Port in Final Stages of Internet Expansion Project

The Port of Columbia is near the end of a project to connect all homes in Dayton, Wash., and the surrounding areas of Columbia County to high-speed Internet service. Officials expect to offer service in early 2023.

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(TNS) — After years of planning, the Port of Columbia is in the final stages of bringing broadband Internet to households in Dayton and the surrounding areas of Columbia County.

Once the network is complete, every household in the Dayton city limits with have access to the paid service by early 2023.

"We will be able to extend out about three miles from the city of Dayton to the outer parts of the town," Port of Columbia Executive Director Jennie Dickinson said. "We are a little bit ahead of the game compared to other counties that are doing the same thing with broadband."

According to Dickinson, 231,000 feet of fiber optic cable is scheduled for delivery in July that eventually will be strung to power poles across the area bringing broadband access to households.

The port came to an agreement with Pacific Corp. to use the power poles and hired the company Zero dB to plan construction.

The designs should be ready by the end of July, and construction companies will start bidding on the project then.

"Getting our fiber optics in July keeps us on schedule," Dickinson said. "And after we get a few bids, our goal is to start constructing the fiber lines by this fall."

Dickinson hopes to have the project completed by late spring or early summer of 2023 depending on the severity of this year's winter weather, which could slow progress.

In July 2021, the Port of Columbia was awarded a $2 million grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to begin construction on a fiber network for the community.

The grant was contingent on a match from the county and other local entities.

The Port of Columbia, the City of Dayton and Columbia County pooled their resources to contribute $500,000, with $335,000 coming from Dayton's federal COVID relief funds.

The port added $26,000 and Columbia County contributed $90,000, with contributions from the Warren Community Fund and Sherwood Trust of $15,000 and $20,000 respectively.

The total cost of the project was estimated at $2.5 million a year ago, but current supply chain issues and inflation may lead a scaled back approach to stay within the budget.

The port will furnish a space at the Cameron Street Co-Working building in the Rock Hill Industrial Park that will serve the central location for the fiber optic system.

The entire system will run out of a 12 x 12 room at the co-working building.

INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS


The two ISPs that have shown interest in taking the lead with broadband Internet are Columbia iConnect and Emerge by Inland Cellular, Dickinson said.

The Port of Columbia will own the fiber optic network, and the ISPs will provide the actual Internet service to the customer.

"This is part of the public and private sector partnership," Dickinson said. "The port will own and operate and maintain the fiber optic network, and the service providers will provide the Internet services for the customer"

Each ISP will pay a $20 fee to the port for each household the ISP serves. The funds generated by the fees will be used to operate and maintain the network.

Columbia iConnect, Emerge by Inland Cellular and Century Link are already providing wireless Internet service in Dayton using a signal tower.

However, the signals from the tower is unreliable for some Dayton residents because it can be blocked by other buildings, slowing down service or the signal.

"If you don't live in the right spot then you don't get very good Internet if any at all." Dickinson said.

That is not the case for fiber optics, according to Dickinson, who said "fiber is king" when it comes to download and upload speeds and overall reliability.

THE BUSINESS OF THE INTERNET


For businesses, slow Internet affects productivity. They need faster Internet speeds to be able to grow and expand their business and need it for e-commerce as well, Dickinson said.

Jay Ball, owner of Jay's Garage in Dayton, said he spends a lot of time waiting for his Internet to process daily functions like processing invoices or looking up car parts.

"Time is money, and information is the key," Ball said. "We are always online to get information and when we sit there and watch the little Internet wheel spinning around forever, it costs us money."

Ball said it feels like his current Internet is going 35 mph when he should be doing 100 on the same highway.

"We are trying to catch up with the rest of the world," Ball said. "It's a utility just like water or power. It is a requirement to do business these days. I truly believe that, and we need the investment into it."

And his comparison is not far from the truth for the speed and connectivity broadband will bring.

Once the network is in place, upload and download speeds will be 100 to 1,000 times faster for Dayton residents then they are with wireless.

HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION


"We are in a new digital environment and digital age," Dickinson said. "It's not only for businesses, but also for the future of health care and creating educational opportunities for young people."

When the country move to remote school and work during the COVID-19 pandemic, many rural communities were left behind.

Without adequate Internet services, some children were unable to learn remotely, and people were limited in their job opportunities without the ability to work from home.

"As things change in the cyber world, fiber will continue to keep up with the changes coming in the digital age, because fiber is limitless," Dickinson said.

Dickinson said the port has plans to further expand Internet throughout Columbia County to reach as many households as possible.

The Dayton project is part of a larger plan by the State Broadband Office, which was created in 2019 to address discrepancies in high-quality Internet access between urban and rural areas.

The SBO serves as a central broadband planning body with the goal of achieving affordable and high-speed Internet access for all Washingtonians.

Broadband is a high-capacity transmission technique that enables many messages and signals to be communicated simultaneously across a fiber optic network.

©2022 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.