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Broadband inches closer to North Kitsap

Telecommunications in Poulsbo took two giant, high -speed steps forward this week. But the ultra-speedy, ultra-wide bands for computer communications are still stopped just short of your front door.

On Wednesday night, the Poulsbo City Council unanimously approved a telecommunications master permit for the Kitsap Public Utilities (KPUD)district, effectively approving installation of a broadband fiber backbone that will wind its way through Poulsbo.

It didn’t take long for the fiber cable to go up—by 2 a.m. Thursday, crews from KPUD were already stringing cable down Finn Hill. The cable will snake its way along existing power poles to downtown Poulsbo, travel up Lincoln and zip out to Kingston.

Another key piece of the fiber backbone will be strung down Hwy 305, potentially linking Bainbridge Island to the world of fiber-fast communications. The Bainbridge City Council must also approve a master permit with KPUD in its meeting on April 16 before island businesses or residents could access this resource.

Even though KPUD has strung the line throughout Kitsap at a cost of $4.5 million, it is still inaccessible to most residential and business users in North Kitsap and Bainbridge. The “last mile”—the distance between the utility pole and a hookup at a home or business—still will need to be made by a local provider or government agency. As of now, there is no local “last mile” hookup provider for KPUD’s backbone in Poulsbo or Bainbridge.

Sprint to offer DSL

Another window to DSL service in North Kitsap was opened Thursday by Brad Camp, local community affairs director for Sprint at a Kitsap Telecom Committee meeting held in Poulsbo. Camp announced that Sprint would have DSL service available in Poulsbo by this fall.

The two separate forward steps of progress are the result of several years of behind the scenes work in both the private and public sector that has involved many area technology professionals, government and tribal officials, the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council (KREDC), the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC) and the University of Washington Internet Studies Group.

Complicating the already complex technological issues are federal regulations, tariffs, and companies such as Sprint, U.S. West, Century Tel, Charter and AT&T which have multi-million dollar investments in communications infrastructure.

What’s so important about broadband?

Why the push for the super-fast broadband service to Kitsap County?

Proponents such as Poulsbo City Council member Ed Stern believe that providing telecommunications capabilities comparable to what’s available in Seattle and surrounding markets at a similar cost will help attract business and telecommuters to Kitsap. He is backing improved telecommunications as a way to spur Kitsap economic development that is not ferry or transportation dependent.

“What’s driving the push for improved telecommunications is a sense of urgency that Kitsap is being left behind,” Camp explains. “High speed telecommunications need to be a part of today’s business environment—and in six months Poulsbo will have it.”

Who North Kitsap residents will be able to choose from to get their high-speed technology, and how much it will cost them, are still unknown. In addition to a private provider option (such as Sprint, AT&T, or Century Tel), there may be a public option as well. Under some scenarios being visualized, cities such as Poulsbo could provide high-speed telecommunications as a utility, similar to the way the city provides water and sewer service now.

Mary McClure, executive director of the KRCC, has helped coordinate the public/government link in this process.

She spoke to the Kitsap Telecom Committee meeting Thursday morning about the difficulty of melding public and private interests in telecommunications. McClure reminded committee members about the transportation improvement initiatives in the early 90’s meant to create public and private partnerships to build bridges and improve transportation.

“And, here we are 10 years later,” McClure said. “Still with no bridge and lots of problems.”

“Government needs to look carefully at what its right role is here. The public sector can’t get married or even start dating until it knows what the other sex looks like,” McClure added.

In September, the KRCC will host a full-day workshop of “smart people”, including University of Washington Internet Studies staffers to help meld the public and private efforts.

And just to keep the matter even more interesting, the Kitsap effort is also being addressed at the federal level.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray two years ago helped establish a rural telecommunications working group. The committee is interested in connecting more rural-like areas with broadband capabilities.

Other local Congressional leaders have also become interested in the effort and are working behind the scenes with private and public sector providers.

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