PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University and the University of Idaho will be connected by a fiber optic cable this fall, a collaborative effort that will back up Internet services at both institutions and likely stimulate economic development in Whitman County.

The Port of Whitman County purchased an existing fiber optic cable from Avista Communications and is leasing part of the cable to both schools. The connection will replace an aging microwave system that WSU uses to deliver interactive classroom instruction to UI. Interactive classrooms allow students and instructors in separate locations to participate in the same class.

It also will back up Internet services – both schools rely heavily on the Internet to conduct business, research and classroom instruction.

Most of the fiber is already in place with construction expected to begin soon to complete the connection, said David Ostrom, assistant director for communications at WSU.

Officials also believe the effort will benefit the Port of Whitman County. Part of the agreement calls for the fiber to be extended through WSU’s underground steam tunnels to the port’s industrial park, a move that officials believe will help attract new businesses.

Both schools hope to replace out-of-date cable television systems, and if it is cost effective, the cable connection may be used to share some of the cost of that service.