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KPUD will seek help on Wi-Fi system improvement

POULSBO — The Kitsap Public Utility District is taking another step forward in an effort to establish free Wi-Fi access in North Kitsap, but to do so, it will seek outside help.

In March, the utility’s board approved a request-for-proposal process to shop around for private consultants. The consultants will evaluate two of KPUD’s Wi-Fi networks, in Poulsbo and Winslow on Bainbridge Island.

KPUD staff will have an RFP out within the month. It will then spend approximately 30 days considering bids.

The Poulsbo-based utility district operates a handful of pilot Wi-Fi networks throughout Kitsap County, including free wireless hotspots in Poulsbo, Kingston, Winslow, and Port Orchard. Within these downtown hotspots, patrons can access Wi-Fi through a network called “KPUD Cares.”

KPUD chose Poulsbo’s network to study because it is close to its headquarters, and Winslow because the downtown has presented issues the district believes it can learn from. One antenna in Winslow is fighting interference and has district staff baffled.

“It was up and running but you couldn’t get signal unless you were standing on the antenna,” KPUD Superintendent Steve Perry said. “We don’t know what is causing the interference, but we are thinking maybe the cell tower close by has something to do with it. We want to learn from it.”

The Wi-Fi service is free to access and uses KPUD’s fiberwire network to connect to the Internet. So far, users have been pleased.

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” Perry said. “The only negative is that it is not growing fast enough or they can’t get it where they’re at. The complaints haven’t really been about the technology or the service, it’s more that we are not moving fast enough.”

The networks are an experiment that has so far moved at the pace of trial-and-error so the district can gather information on deploying the systems.

“We try to (experiment) without spending a lot of money, because it’s research,” Perry said. “We’ve learned a lot. One thing is that you can’t just throw these things up. You do have to engineer it pretty heavily.”

In other words, Wi-Fi networks are not all created equally. Downtown areas present different obstacles. Also learned is that while an antenna can spread a signal over a wide area, a device may not be powerful enough to send a signal back. The issue has become prevalent with smartphones and tablets.

“It doesn’t matter if you have an antenna that can shoot 10 miles if your cell phone can’t shoot back more than 10 feet,” Perry said.

A private consultant will help clean up any interference and shortcomings, Perry said.

KPUD hopes to build off the experience and knowledge gained from the pilot projects to create a county-wide Wi-Fi network.

“KPUD believes that access to the Internet is a fundamental right,” Perry said. “Knowledge should not be withheld from anyone. Government should be accessed by everyone. Both of those things are moving to the Internet. A lot of government agencies are moving to the Internet. Combine that with the logistics of Kitsap County, running (wires) to everyone is not feasible. Wi-Fi is the fasted deployment method, in theory.”

He added, “The utopia for us would be a canopy that covers the entire county. Maybe not in the middle of the woods, but where people’s homes are, where their shopping centers are. The demand is there for people to access the Interest outside of their house. The vision is that everyone would have to access to the Internet in Kitsap County.”

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