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POULSBO — Education. Government. Homeland security. Commerce.

All these things will be the beneficiaries of a new fiber optic backbone in Kitsap County was the message of a recent meeting of the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

The KRCC’s telecommunications committee has met for years on the issue of the fiber optic backbone, however, last Thursday night’s meeting was a chance for group to look at the whole picture. On the verge of implementing broadband solutions across the county, representatives gathered to speak on the topic, “Broadband’s great... What are we gonna do with it?”

For Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern, a vehement supporter of the backbone idea for years, the issue is simple. In his mind, broadband can take commuters off the roads and have them working closer to home, contributing more to their communities and families and saving the environment from a glut of car and ferry exhaust.

“For the many that labor with their heads rather than their hands, which is more and more these days, the idea of reporting to an actual building and working under a looming supervisor is a 21st Century nonsense,” Stern said. “Send workers’ work to work rather than themselves. Send students’ eyes, ears and minds to the classroom rather than themselves. Send the elderly’s symptoms to the doctor rather than their tired bodies.”

The cost of Kitsap County being a bedroom community can even be counted monetarily, said Mike Bookey of Pachena Light, who has been retained by the Kitsap County Public Utility District to help implement the Kitsap Teleworking Initiative this year. He said an estimated $4,000 per year per commuter is spent outside cities they commute from.

“And then there’s the cost that these commuters essentially only sleep in Kitsap County,” Bookey added. “So they’re not members of the chamber and they’re not members of Rotary.”

Bookey’s contract with the KPUD has a completion date of June 6 for a workable Kitsap County solution to teleworking needs. For starters, Bookey said he supports the idea of a “Kitsap Telework Hotel,” basically a wired center in Kitsap County that would allow employers and employees to try out teleworking before they spend the money to wire their own homes. He said he especially sees benefits for Seattle area businesses like Boeing, for which its Kitsap area engineers could work from home some days rather than having a nearly two hour commute every day.

“It doesn’t mean you have to become a recluse, you can go into the office, but if you only have to go in two days as opposed to five that’s a winner,” Bookey commented.

Great strides are also expected on the education side through the backbone, explained Olympic College President David Mitchell and Vice President of Instruction Randy Lawrence. In the next year, OC hopes to have its Shelton, Bremerton and North Kitsap campuses all wired to the backbone. Besides offering greater access to education opportunities, Lawrence said being connected will allow the three campuses to interact more freely.

“We can have instruction at multiple sites,” Lawrence gave as an example. “This works especially well when we have 2-3 people here, 2-3 people in Bremerton and 2-3 in Shelton and if we can bring them all together that class can go forward rather than being cancelled. It makes sense.”

Of course, Mitchell said with a chuckle that his interest in broadband was not only professional.

“On a personal note, my wife telecommutes. We’re connected to an ISDN line that doesn’t work. It hangs up. And when I come home she’s in a bad mood,” Mitchell joked.

“Someone get this man’s home hooked up immediately,” came a reply from one person in the crowd.

In all, the agreement was that the KPUD’s fiber backbone could create some great changes in the way Kitsap County lives its life. One of the biggest changes may be the possibility of drawing new people, new commerce and new opportunities to the county, rather than exporting all its workers, commented Mark Zenger, President of First Western Investments, heading the Poulsbo Olhava development.

“Do you have broadband? If you can’t answer that yes, they don’t talk to you,” Zenger, who has spent the last 25 years in the real estate business, told the crowd. “Although that will cost us money up front, it opens up a lot of doors to businesses that wouldn’t ordinarily talk to you, wouldn’t even consider moving to North Kitsap.”

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