The internet at most homes in Pomeroy is so slow students often go to school if they are working on reports or other important homework to catch faster speeds.

Frequent buffering makes routine functions such as downloading manuals, watching Netflix or even scrolling through Facebook almost impossible.

“If you need speed and reliability, it’s not a good place to be,” said Diana Ruchert, manager of the Port of Garfield County.

That frustration prompted Ruchert and other community leaders to raise $850,000 to fix the problem.

The money will be used to bring high-speed internet into residential neighborhoods and some areas surrounding Pomeroy. Large agencies and employers such as the schools and the U.S. Forest Service already have that service.

The first phases of the upgrade are anticipated to be finished early this summer, and at least one company, PocketiNet of Walla Walla, will offer services through the new fiber. The cost of high-speed internet is expected to be about $70 a month per household.

The investment is important to Garfield County for a number of reasons, Ruchert said.

Garfield County’s fairgrounds, which are frequently used as a staging area to fight wildfires, lack high-speed internet.

Convincing married couples to relocate to Pomeroy is getting increasingly difficult. A wife hired by the U.S. Forest Service, might decline the offer because of the difficulties her husband could have running a home-based business with such weak internet service.

Similarly, even if someone following a spouse to Pomeroy for a job is allowed by an employer to keep a position and work remotely, the slow internet speeds might prevent that.

Finding the resources and creating a plan to remedy those issues and others has taken eight years.

The Port of Garfield County landed a $412,500 low-interest loan from Washington state’s Community Economic Revitalization Board and an additional $137,500 in grant money from that entity. The port contributed another $200,000 of its own money and received $100,000 from Garfield County for the project.

The model Port of Garfield County is using was pioneered by the Port of Whitman County and later deployed by the ports of Clarkston and Lewiston.

The Port of Whitman County provides management and administration services to the other three ports, relying on expertise it has gained in the last 17 years completing and maintaining 300 miles of fiber used by 15 companies.

“We can put all the structure in place so everyone can function,” said Joe Poire, executive director of the Port of Whitman County.

The Garfield County port will own the fiber and lease capacity to telecommunications companies for set rates.

The telecommunications companies, like PocketiNet, not the Port of Garfield County, will be the ones that sell services like high-speed internet to customers.

“We want to build the highway so they’ll come,” Ruchert said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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