The Port of Skagit is looking for funding to bring its fiber optic backbone to Concrete, and is also exploring options to extend the network south into Snohomish County.
Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin told the Skagit County commissioners April 23 that the goal is to provide affordable high-speed internet to residents and businesses.
Martin said the port plans to request economic development funds from the county this spring for the Concrete portion of the countywide backbone.
In the past two years, commissioners have awarded $2 million for the project, and Martin said the port plans to apply for $1 million.
State funds are also paying for the backbone, including $1 million — half loan, half grant — from the Community Economic Revitalization Board, Martin said.
The total cost is estimated at about $3 million.
Whatever money the port receives in excess of $3 million will help pay for distribution networks in La Conner, Sedro-Woolley and Concrete to allow individual residents and businesses to connect to the backbone, Linda Tyler, the port’s community outreach administrator, said in an email.
Last year, the port and the Skagit Public Utility District formed a joint broadband company — SkagitNet — that will operate an open-access network, meaning internet providers will be able to compete to sell services on the fiber backbone.
“With that competition will come competitive prices for our citizens and businesses,” Martin told commissioners.
The port is also considering extending the backbone south along Highway 530 from Rockport to underserved areas such as Darrington and the reservation of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Martin said.
There are grants available through the United States Department of Agriculture’s new ReConnect program for rural communities. Port commissioners have not approved pursuing this grant, Tyler said.
The goal is to complete the Skagit County backbone in early 2020, she said.
Commissioner Lisa Janicki said a fiber network can address a technology gap.
“That technology (gap) often translates into a wage-earning-potential gap,” she said.