August 4, 2021 — Gig-speed fiber Internet service is on the way to rural communities in eastern Skagit County, thanks to a collaboration between the Port of Skagit and Ziply™ Fiber.

The Port of Skagit and Ziply Fiber entered into an agreement last week to connect homes and businesses in eastern Skagit County to fiber optic infrastructure, putting the speed, capacity, and reliability of Internet service for Skagit communities on par with larger cities around the country. This 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.

Ziply Fiber, which acquired the Northwest operations of Frontier Communications last year, is in the midst of a significant expansion of its fiber network and has committed to invest more than $500 million in its network and services throughout the Pacific Northwest. In communities such as Skagit County, the company is investing resources in rural markets that have never seen fiber optic infrastructure.

“At Ziply Fiber, we believe you shouldn’t have to live in a big city to get great Internet. This partnership with the Port of Skagit allows us to build out fiber more quicky and to a larger geography than we’d be able to do on our own,” said Harold Zeitz, CEO of Ziply Fiber. “As a local company, we are proud to work with the Port of Skagit County and other public entities that see the value that public/private partnerships can bring to enabling their residents and businesses to access state-of-the-art fiber-optic networks and services both today and into the future.”

For the Port, this agreement presents the opportunity to accelerate deployment of high-speed Internet in these communities at levels of affordability typically only seen in urban markets. “This is one of the most significant economic development projects the Port of Skagit has ever been involved with,” said Patsy Martin, Port Executive Director.

Port Commissioner Bill Shuler noted this project will advance the construction of fiber optic infrastructure in eastern Skagit County by 10 years or more and will save money by utilizing existing infrastructure in a collaborative business model. “This is something I’ve been focused on for many years,” stated Commissioner Shuler. “This will bring dependable, high-speed Internet service to residents and business owners who haven’t had access to it before.”

Earlier efforts to improve access to fiber optic infrastructure led to the creation of SkagitNet in 2018, which is jointly operated by the Port of Skagit and Skagit PUD. SkagitNet is an open access, wholesale, fiber optic network that promotes competitive services and consumer choice—essential elements that are retained in this agreement with Ziply Fiber.

The Community Economic Revitalization (CERB) Board of Washington supports the Rural Broadband Program with grant awards for construction and creative partnership opportunities with telecommunications providers such as Ziply Fiber. In turn, Ziply Fiber’s strategy and focus in the Pacific Northwest is providing the best possible Internet services to residents and businesses in small, rural towns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the digital divide in terms of accessible Internet connectivity. It has also created substantial policy focus from the state legislature and from funding organizations trying to determine how to solve this problem, especially in rural communities that are often unserved or under-served. Public-private partnerships like this one between the Port of Skagit and Ziply Fiber is a creative and effective way to help bridge that divide and make a difference on a local level.