The Port of Skagit and the company Ziply Fiber will partner on a project to bring high-speed fiber internet to 1,200 homes and businesses in rural east Skagit County.

The partnership has been in the works for months and was announced by the port on Wednesday.

“The agreement will provide fiber-to-the-premise construction to more than 1,200 homes and businesses in Lyman, Hamilton, Concrete and Marblemount by the end of 2022,” the port stated in a news release.

As access to high-speed internet for work, school and health care became essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, many in rural areas lacked adequate connections or had none at all.

The port/Ziply agreement is expected to bring 1-gigabit-per-second internet service to rural residents and businesses “at levels of affordability typically only seen in urban markets,” the port’s news release states.

Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin called the project “one of the most significant economic development projects the Port of Skagit has ever been involved with.”

Since 2017, the port has been working on building a publicly owned, open-access fiber network consisting of six segments from Anacortes to Concrete. The port and the Skagit Public Utility District jointly oversee the network, called SkagitNet.

Once sections of fiber backbone are built, the fiber still needs to be brought to homes and businesses to create a connection.

In sparsely populated rural areas, private businesses typically have little financial incentive to build these fiber connections, port spokesperson Linda Tyler said in an email.

However, as a public entity the port has a longer return on investment, allowing it to build the infrastructure to provide internet service, she said.

In an interview in June with the Skagit Valley Herald, Harold Zeitz, CEO of Ziply Fiber, said because fiber construction can be expensive in rural areas, public-private partnerships make sense for the company.

“It generally costs me the same to build a mile of fiber no matter where it is,” he said. “If there is only one home in a mile, versus 100 homes in a mile, then it will cost 100 times more to build fiber.”

Ziply Fiber, headquartered in Kirkland, has committed to spending $500 million to improve internet connectivity in the Pacific Northwest, with an emphasis on rural areas, according to the port’s news release.

Ziply, which acquired the Northwest operations of Frontier Communications last year, has already expanded into Anacortes and is planning an expansion this fall into Sedro-Woolley.

“We believe you shouldn’t have to live in a big city to get great Internet,” Zeitz said in the Wednesday news release. “This partnership with the Port of Skagit allows us to build out fiber more quickly and to a larger geography than we’d be able to do on our own.”

By working with Ziply, the port will speed up fiber construction in east Skagit County by at least 10 years and save money, Port Commissioner Bill Shuler said in the news release.

“This will bring dependable, high-speed Internet service to residents and business owners who haven’t had access to it before,” he said.

Tyler said Ziply will own the fiber infrastructure, but the agreement gives the port the right to use the fiber and lease it to other internet service providers (ISPs).

“The agreement ensures an open access model which will allow the Port to lease out the infrastructure to other approved ISPs who work with SkagitNet,” she said in an email.

There are currently six ISPs, including Ziply, who work with SkagitNet, according to a document on the port’s website.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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