Gov. Jay Inslee toured the Port of Skagit on Tuesday afternoon to learn about the port’s investment in creating a countywide broadband internet network.
The goal of the fiber-optic network that will stretch from Anacortes to Concrete is to provide high-speed, affordable internet to residents and businesses.
Inslee, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he signed a bill this month authorizing $21 million to support rural broadband development.
“I was so convinced that this is the greatest small town rural economic tool we have,” he said.
About 15 officials, community and business leaders attended the meeting with Inslee.
Lack of access to high-speed, affordable internet can put companies in rural areas at a competitive disadvantage, Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County CEO John Sternlicht said.
Phil Stephenson, general manager at PACCAR Technical Center, said when the company switched from traditional copper wire to fiber it increased its ability to move data.
“Businesses owners need to be able to access more and more information stored on the cloud,” Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki said.
Others spoke of the benefits to education and emergency response.
Skagit Valley College President Tom Keegan said for a majority of students the ability to access higher education is dependent on online education.
Gina Stark with the Port of Bellingham said a fiber network is important for residents in rural areas to be able access emergency services.
The fiber project has succeeded so far because of the partnership between multiple partners, including the port, county, the Skagit Public Utility District and the cities, said PUD Commissioner Eron Berg.
Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin said in the future the port is looking to expand outside of Skagit County to provide broadband in underserved areas.
Nick Guy with Noel Communications of Yakima said when public agencies invest in fiber, it brings down the cost for customers. And the open access network planned in Skagit, called SkagitNet, will encourage competition, he said.
Inslee asked what could the newly formed governor’s broadband office do to support the project.
Stark said she would like to see more technical assistance offered to communities, and Janicki said she would like to see a map of internet speeds in Washington where better coverage is most needed.
Inslee said broadband will also help support the development of clean energy and technology businesses.
“Having broadband is integral to that,” he said.
The meeting at the Port of Skagit was the third of the day that Inslee attended in the region regarding broadband.
He was in Friday Harbor in the morning and in Anacortes in the early afternoon.
In Anacortes, Inslee heard about the city’s work on installing a citywide fiber-optic network that is expected to lower the cost of internet for city residents and businesses.
He told those in Anacortes that he would take the input he received over the course of the day — and the examples of what Anacortes is accomplishing — to other communities seeking to make expanded broadband access possible.
“The things you’ve done are amazing,” he said. “I’m going to take this statewide to encourage other communities to be as ambitious as you are.”