Growth & Development

Affordable internet access reaches rural Whatcom County

A handful of grants support homes and businesses
February 18, 2022 at 11:13 a.m.

Staff Reporter

Fast and affordable internet access is making its way to long unserved parts of Whatcom County, thanks to over $10 million secured by the Port of Bellingham. 

Many Whatcom County residents live or work miles away from infrastructure that can sufficiently expand internet services. In fact, a quarter of rural Americans nationwide lack adequate and affordable internet access, according to the Pew Research Center. 

“Today, high-speed internet is essential to find work and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities as well as to access education and health care,” Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the private sector has not been able to extend broadband infrastructure to many rural areas in our community.”

To address the widespread inaccessibility, state and federal lawmakers have devoted billions of dollars in grants to pandemic relief efforts. Now, 1,100 underserved homes and businesses north of Ferndale will be able to access quality internet, funded by grants received by the Port in partnership with Whatcom County and Public Utility District No. 1. 

In 2021, the Port received a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce Community Economic Revitalization Board to expand internet access in north Lynden. The PUD also received another grant to identify large areas of homes and businesses in need of quality internet access in Whatcom County. Recently, the Port received $4 million from the Washington State Broadband Office and $1 million from the county’s Economic Development Investment Program.

The internet service expansion project in north Ferndale will be under construction by early next year, but it won’t be the only one. The East Nooksack/North Mosquito Late Road project will extend internet to 464 unserved homes and businesses, and the north Lynden project will do the same for 450 additional homes and businesses.

“These grant dollars are going straight into our local economy and will ensure more families can access the internet,” said Port Commissioner Michael Shepard in a statement. 

Through a Broadband Steering Committee, the Port and PUD continue to work together on policy, strategies and funding opportunities. In a statement, PUD Commissioner Christine Grant said the PUD will continue to apply for additional state and federal grants to continue expanding accessible internet infrastructure.

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