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Broadband brings Kitsap leaders to the table

POULSBO – Transportation improvements. Economic development. Quality of life issues. These are not the topics you might expect to hear discussed at the monthly meeting of the KREDC Telecommunications Committee––a highly technical group filled with local government officials and communications professionals with local and eye-popping global credentials.

Even more surprising is who else is now at the table. Not only are telecommunications companies such as Sprint and AT&T involved, but PSE (Puget Sound Energy) is now weighing how to become involved in providing what many are beginning to call “the fourth utility.”

What brings this diverse group together is an urgency about building a new communications infrastructure in Kitsap County.

“Telecommunications is a economic issue that is vital to the future of Kitsap County,” KREDC Telecommunications Committee Chair Ed Stern explained at last week’s monthly meeting in Poulsbo.

“Telecommunications is a transportation issue,” Stern adds. “It is the least costly, most readily available strategy to reduce the number of people crowding area highways and ferries. Telecommunications gives us a new model of getting to work. Right now half of our work force is trying to get across the water every day.”

Where does PSE fit in this technological future?

According to Stern, PSE approached the committee last winter to explore possibilities about how the company might work with the committee.

Don McDaniel, Corporate Relations Manager for PSE, sees his company as having a role in telecommunications. He said PSE seeks to be a “strong planning partner” with the community governments.

“We’re always looking for new business opportunities to be successful as a company. When it comes to broadband, the company is looking at partnerships that fit, such as billing and administrative services,” he said.

“Clearly,” McDaniel said looking at the government officials gathered in the room, “there are a number of partnerships on the table yet to be discussed. We need to step forward with great care.”

Stepping forward, can also mean exploring global solutions.

Rex Hughes, co-director of the Center for Internet Studies (CIS) at the University of Washington’s Institute for International Policy has also helped the committee to shape the technological future for Kitsap.

Hughes who works daily with “disruptive technologies” that are changing the approaches governments and companies use for international relations and global business techniques adivsed the telecommunications committee “not to get bogged down in bits and bytes.”

His contribution as a consultant to the committee is to “facilitate conversation between Kitsap government and providers, and to keep the emphasis on economic development.” Hughes sees the fiber backbone network currently being created by KPUD (Kitsap Public Utilities District) as the catalyst for a whole new stratgey of economic development in Kitsap.

“This neutral platform allows you to partner with anybody,” Hughes said. “The potential to harness that bandwidth is powerful.”

In non-technical terms, what the committee heard was a vision of “broadband” high speed Internet communications available at an affordable cost to Kitsap businesses and homes. The greater speed and increased technologcial access offered by broadband allows businesses to be more techical and “future proof,” Hughes explains.

As the committee meets each month, work continues to stretch “the backbone” of fiber cable to the far points of Kitsap—from Port Orchard to Bainbridge.

To mark the completion of the backbone, an event is planned for July 30 at the Admiral Theatre in Bremerton to demonstrate the potential and capabilities of the new techology. Area government and business leaders will link to the area’s congressional delegation via the new technology and other uses will be demonstrated to a group of dignitaries.

The challenge remains the “last mile” solution—bringing broadband access directly to the home or business from the KPUD backbone.

Don McDaniel, Corporate Relations Manager for Puget Sound Energy, sees his company as having a role in that solution.

PSE seeks to be a “strong planning partner with the community governments.

“We’re always looking for new business opportunities to be successful as a company. When it comes to broadband, the company is looking at partnerships that fit, such as billing and administrative services,” he said.

“Clearly,” McDaniel said looking at the government officials gathered in the room, “there are a number of partnerships on the table yet to be discussed. We need to step forward with great care.”

In the meantime, grassroots solutions to bridging that “last mile” are emerging.

Local utility districts (LUDs) are being discussed in Lemolo and on Bainbridge Island. Homeowners or business owners in a geographic area can band together to form a LUD to pay (over a long term) for the cost of linking their homes and businesses to the fiber backbone now being completed by KPUD.

“What’s needed is a public/private partnership model where government becomes a player,” Stern said. “ We need to view telecommunications as the fourth utility, as an essential public service.”

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