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An old spin on new telecom problems

"POULSBO - Trying to plan for the future of telecommunications in Kitsap County isn't an easy feat. Just ask members of the Regional Telecom Committee. The group took an innovative approach to the problem of crystal balling such issues as telephone and Internet access this Thursday as they heard from retired Admiral Bruce Harlow on what it takes to create a successful communications coup. Harlow did just that in the mid-1980s when he spearheaded an effort to do away with long-distance telephone charges in Kitsap County. His efforts are pretty much the reason calls from Poulsbo to Kingston are free. But, despite this monumental achievement, Harlow was pretty modest as he explained the ups and downs of bringing the county together - both metaphorically and physically. Things have changed quite a bit here since the 1980s, Harlow said, noting that the telephone questions of yesterday have since been replaced by the computer issues of today. Regulatory matters, nonetheless, have remained a sticking point in the process, he added. Another major sticking point and one that actually kept the plan from being truly regional was Bremerton. I got an enthusiastic reception from everyone but Bremerton, he said, noting that he was still a bit sore at that city. Bremerton's unwillingness to accept Harlow's proposal is why Hansville residents can't call their county seat in Port Orchard without accruing long-distance charges. Harlow said state regulatory agencies wouldn't leap frog over the Central Kitsap city and henceforth limited the toll-free calling plan to Silverdale north. Much like the telephone proposal, the Regional Telecom Committee has also experienced some frustration with Kitsap County's largest city. Despite the extended delay, Brad Camp of Sprint said Bremerton is now in the loop in terms of the region's extended calling area. Additionally, government offices in Port Orchard have phone numbers through Silverdale which eliminates long-distance charges for North Kitsap residents calling the county government offices. But as locals try now to link the area for improved Internet access, Harlow offered this advice: Jump starting Bremerton is mission impossible. I'd rather deal with just the north and the south (regions of Kitsap County) than try to bring broadband into Bremerton. However, the need for telecommunications goes beyond political and even economic realms, he said, noting that there is a social element that must be considered as well. This social element is what got the telephone issue going to begin with. Harlow explained that long-distance charges basically kept his own father from contacting good friends via the telephone - even though he lived in Poulsbo and his friends in Hansville. I approached (the plan) from a social standpoint as much as an economic standpoint, Harlow said, adding that it was important the committee recognize low-income residents should be offered the same opportunity in terms of telecommunications progress as everyone else. Creation of a universal system was a topic that surfaced several times during the hour-long presentation. On this note, Harlow spoke to the eight residents of Bainbridge Island who were at the session and explained the inherent need for their city to throw their hat in the ring for the good of the entire region. I think you have a social responsibility to help out the county you unfortunately reside in, he said, taking a jab at the prevailing islander mentality that Bainbridge has more tangible ties to King than Kitsap County. Such negotiations with Bainbridge Island or Bremerton might not be so easy to tackle, but during his military career Harlow did deal with the Soviet Union on a routine basis. And that was during the Cold War. In your work with the Soviets did you find them more difficult or less difficult than the City of Bremerton Poulsbo Councilman Ed Stern asked. Much more difficult, Harlow responded. "

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