By Audra Distifeno for TCAJoB
The City of Richland is investing $2.3 million to upgrade its broadband capabilities to promote growth in the city and at the Tri-Cities Research District.
In April, the Richland City Council approved a resolution to construct a fiber backbone to replace I-Net, which will serve both the City’s and Richland School District’s needs. The fiber infrastructure will have additional capacity that can be used by another party to provide broadband services.
“By utilizing the City’s backbone, we believe we lower the market entry cost to a number of providers, increasing the potential for competition and enhancing access to reasonably priced broadband,” said Gary Ballew, City of Richland Economic Development Manager.
In addition, the City plans to develop additional fiber in the Tri-Cities Research District through Local Revitalization Financing.
“Non-government businesses in the TCRD struggle with access to broadband because the market is not necessarily that large,” said Ballew. “We believe this impinges on potential growth. Again, our hope is the TCRD is the same as city-wide – that by providing fiber, we reduce the entry cost and encourage competition.”
The city of Richland has worked on a broadband initiative for a number of years, their primary purpose to replace the city’s reliance on Charter Cable’s I-Net, said Ballew. Timing was of the essence, as the city’s franchise agreement with Charter expires next year.
In short, the city will not provide broadband services; it will have fiber optic cable available to enhance access throughout the city, specifically in the TCRD.
The city’s strategic plan is to “promote and facilitate greater access to reasonably priced, high-level broadband services to Richland business and residents,” said Ballew.
The project is a definite boon to the TCRD, said Diahann Howard, Port of Benton director of economic development & governmental affairs and TCRD executive director.
“Our goal is to create a magnet area to bring new companies that are not related to the Hanford site to our community,” said Howard of the TCRD. “But we need fiber to do so.”
She said a developer invested $40 million last year and another $25 million this year to this end.
“This (fiber project) has been a great opportunity for our future. It helps us with recruiting,” said Howard. “A couple of companies recently wanted to locate next to PNNL but due to the cost (of broadband), they picked other areas.”
The TCRD has 1,800 acres with 325 available for development; 3.4 million square feet of existing facility space; 23 miles of riverfront trail system; three residential communities. Seven thousand people work within the district boundaries.
It is an “innovation ecosystem” in which to live, work and partner, said Howard.
“Our job is to develop industries in and around the assets of our community. One of our assets is our workforce not connected to the Hanford site,” said Howard.
The focus is clean energy and research work.
“It’s an expectation from these types of companies that just like a road or sewer line, they have access to broadband,” said Howard.
The TCRD currently includes WSU Tri-Cities, PNNL, IsoRay, Inc., Innovatek, Inc., and the Applied Process Engineering Laboratory. TCRD has been designated as a Washington Innovation Partnership Zone and blends scientific research, office, commercial, residential and recreational facilities.
“This fiber helps us have everything we need in the TCRD,” said Howard. “We have such a great level of support – partners and private investors have stepped up, along with the public investment on road development. Broadband is the next piece that creates this innovative research, energy and bio-products neighborhood.”
The TCRD partnered on a grant application to Washington State and received $250,000 to be used in the TCRD. She said the fiber addition will provide a “seamless network” that helps prevent redundancy, especially with large amounts of data.
The focus is really expanding the TCRD but it will definitely upgrade the entire City of Richland’s network, said Howard.
“Access to broadband at a reasonable cost is considered as essential to a city’s economic growth as electricity, water, sewer, and roads,” said Ballew. “Connectivity and the ability to communicate with the rest of the world through high-speed internet will affect the future of Richland businesses and citizens’ daily lives.”
The City of Richland is seeking third parties who are interested in using fiber capacity to provide broadband services. The fiber project is expected to be complete by June 2013.