Opinion

Speed up broadband with KPUD

They’ve turned their attention from the flow of water to the flow of information.

So news that the Kitsap Public Utility District wants to extend its fledgling fiberoptic network across Agate Passage, into Winslow and perhaps beyond, is exciting indeed.

Some 20 folks gathered at city hall Tuesday morning for a presentation by representatives of KPUD, a 60-year-old agency that recently purchased the North Bainbridge Water Company and has long served other island customers as well. Tackling a new type of utility, the district has completed much of a fiber-optic “backbone” – lines carrying mind-bending amounts of voice, data and video information, so central to the economy in today’s wired world – throughout Kitsap County. They’re asking for the city’s help in bringing the network to the island, through a franchise agreement, identification of facility sites and other needs.

To KPUD, we say: Welcome. And we hope the city extends its hand likewise.

Why? The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was supposed to be a boon for consumers, has proven itself a monumental fraud. Big-name telecom providers have used

legislation and the courts to protect their own networks and pinch off the very competition that was supposed to flow forth. The Federal Communications Commission, neutered as a regulatory agency, has been an accomplice at every step.

Left behind are consumers in rural or low-density areas like the island, where investment in broadband lines by the industry giants “doesn’t yet make economic sense.” It should be clear by now that these outfits aren’t going to get off the dime, until they can figure out how to slip the dime into their pocket. (The island’s new cable provider may well offer high-speed Internet access, but that will still leave consumers paying that outfit’s prices, for whatever the company deems appropriate service.)

That’s why the entry of the Kitsap PUD into the market, as wholesale provider of broadband access to local Internet service providers and others outfits, is so appealing. Completing a publicly owned network around Kitsap County and Bainbridge Island – one that’s committed to open access – will give consumers what they don’t now enjoy: choice.

Also, the PUD’s ability to form “local utility districts” would finally solve the problem of the “last mile” – how to get high-speed lines extended to individual homes. We can see neighborhoods banding together to petition for service, paying over time for lines that private providers would never get around to.

So far, KPUD has franchise agreements with several Kitsap cities; yet to sign on is Bainbridge Island.

Experience suggests an institutional inertia and a general suspicion of such agreements, which can bog the negotiating process down. And where the city is dealing with private players, that’s probably wise.

But we would suggest to our city administration and council members: You’ll probably never have a better friend than you will in the public utility district. If you’re concerned about economic development, home-based business and consumer choice, this looks like a fine partnership.

After all, if we don’t like the direction the Kitsap PUD is going with its broadband network, we can always send a message that KPUD commissioners will hear – after all, we vote for them.

We’ll never be able to say that about AT&T or Qwest.

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