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Telecom committee pushes for city ISPs

POULSBO — Describing Kitsap County’s telecommunications dilemma as a four-lane highway with no on ramps, Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern last Thursday said assistance was needed if the area was ever to bridge the “last-mile” gap between customers and begin creating additional family wage jobs.

This help could come in the form of a “public sector solution” and possibly the “municipalization of Internet Service Providers.”

The message was not lost on members of the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council Telecommunications Committee, a consortium of representatives from regional public utility districts, cities, counties, businesses and telecommunications firms, which gathered at the Poulsbo Fire Department to discuss the last-mile problem.

“The regional telecommunications committee has moved the item of a public sector solution to the KREDC,” Stern explained, adding that he felt ISP services could eventually be handled by cities in the same way the entities deal with water and sewer. The group will be looking into hiring a consultant to review the concept.

“That’s cutting edge for Washington — that’s what were exploring,” he said.

The ground work for the ground-breaking concept though was laid by Click Network, a Tacoma-based company that has partnered with that city to improve its telecommunications capabilities and economy.

Diane Lachel, Click Network’s government and community relations manager, was keynote speaker at the session and gave a detailed history of how her company entered into a working relationship with Tacoma.

In 1996, things were different Lachel said, noting that if a new business or homeowner moved to the city it took anywhere from 12-18 months just to get them phone service. The problem deterred growth but later that year the Telecommunications Act sprouted opportunity.

Soon after the city and Click invested in additional infrastructure, Tacoma became the first municipality in the nation to offer wholesale ISPs. The move spurred competition, boosted service and dropped prices for the area’s telecommunications users.

“We are able to control the destiny and future of our network,” Click’s Dave Bryant explained. “People don’t realize how beneficial it is to have a local provider.”

Businesses did though, according to Bryant, who said 100 new companies have located in Tacoma since then because of the advanced infrastructure offered.

Several tides were flowing the right way for the merger but members of the telecommunications agreed that a similar plan could work here provided the regional group push off from shore soon. To this end, Lachel advised that the KREDCTC be creative and not shy away from partnerships.

“Ultimately, you don’t want to be left behind,” she remarked.

“What we’re essentially talking about here is economic development,” Stern said.

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