December 10, 2021
Port of Whitman County
Port and Partners Cut Ribbon on Rural Whitman County Broadband Project

Gig-speed broadband access brings economic opportunities to rural Whitman County

Tekoa, WA (December 10, 2021) — On Thursday, December 9, the Port of Whitman County and its partners cut the ribbon on a multi-year project to bring gig-speed broadband to five communities on the Palouse and beyond.

The project brings urban-area internet speeds to more than 150 businesses and 1,386 homes in Rosalia, Tekoa, Oakesdale, Garfield and Palouse. In addition, the project extends fiber 41 miles to transmitter sites for improved wireless broadband in the areas of Almota, Oakesdale, Tekoa, Farmington, Grinnell and Lamont. The final piece of the project will conclude this month when the fiber-to-the-home network in Oakesdale goes live. The launch is scheduled for Monday, December 20.

The ribbon-cutting drew local elected officials, internet service providers, community members and representatives from the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) – several of whom traveled from Olympia – to Tekoa (pop: 731) Thursday morning. 

Port Commissioner Kristine Meyer explained the economic and social impacts of the project completion for rural Whitman County.

“Folks will have the kind of service that’s comparable to the largest urban centers in our state,” Meyer said. “It’s no longer going to be different to live in Farmington than it is to live in Seattle, except the important quality of life difference. It’s not going to be a difference of service and your connectivity. Those kinds of differences will be erased by this project.”

The Port’s project was funded by a $1 million loan and $1 million CERB grant. The Port provided a project match of $2 million, which included a $1 million commitment from Whitman County of .09 funds.

CERB Vice Chair Michael Echanove witnessed the project’s impact firsthand telecommuting from his home in Palouse, as well through his official capacity on the board, he said. He thanked the Port for its leadership in broadband deployment – not only in Whitman County, but across the state.

“Your port over here has been integral in assisting other ports and communities around the state for success,” Echanove said. “I’m telling you, people don’t know how blessed we are to have them behind all this.”

Others spoke to the speed, capacity and reliability upgrades allowed by fiber internet. Prior to the Port’s effort, the incumbent provider offered service over a copper system at speeds averaging .8 – 1.5Mbps, depending on demand.

Fiber internet changed the way Farmington resident Andrew Nelson operates his farms, Nelson Farms and Silver Creek Farms, and runs his at-home software consulting business, Nelson Professional Consulting.

Before the Port’s fiber extensions connected his home, Nelson sent SD cards in the mail or drove to a neighboring town to send large files, he said. He had to turn down agricultural innovation products that would “really push the envelope,” simply because his farm lacked sufficient bandwidth, Nelson said.

“Once we got fiber on the farm, it kind of amplified everything that we were trying to do to make Whitman County the spot for ag innovation,” he said.

Now, Nelson’s farm employs about 16 agricultural products from around the world, he said. 

“This morning, I was able to send 15 Gigabits of imagery data over to a company in Sweden, and also be on a Zoom call with them while doing it,” Nelson said. “Stuff like that makes it possible for anyone to do anything out in the country. I hope we keep progressing it to the rest of the county, because it really makes it possible for us to have the economy that drives forward, instead of one that languishes.

“I’m very happy the Port allowed this to happen, and that we were able to finally get it done. It meant a lot to me, and with the pandemic, it meant even more.”

 

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About the Port of Whitman County

The Port of Whitman County is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all citizens of Whitman County through industrial real estate development, preservation of multi-modal transportation, facilitation of economic development and provision of on-water recreational opportunities.