Monday, August 25, 2014

Olympia and Thurston should follow Poulsbo and Kitsap's lead (at the very least) and what your PUD candidates think about that

Internet connectivity should be a basic utility, like sewer, water and garbage. Directly speaking, that isn't possible in Washington State. Some local governments can, but PUDs cannot directly connect their customers. They can provide service to businesses that sell retail connections to customers.

So, in Kitsap County, the PUD up there is wiring up the cities of Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island, which then are turning on municipal wifi:
There were four antennas placed in downtown Poulsbo.

“Which was not enough,” Jones said.

An upgraded system will likely equate to more antennas throughout a coverage area.

“I’m willing to put a tower on my house,” joked Poulsbo Port Commissioner Jim Rut-ledge, who attended the May 28 meeting.

“I’m willing to wear one,” quipped Councilman Ed Stern.
Improving the system may require KPUD to further expand its fiberoptic system to accommodate additional antennas.
A few weeks ago, I asked various PUD candidates what they thought about the Thurston PUD rolling out not only internet service, but reaching out to customers.

Here is my question:

PUDs are allowed by law to become wholesale internet service  providers. With the already limited number of private companies providing internet access abandoning net neutrality, we have the opportunity through our PUDs to help provide inexpensive and fair access.

Do you think the Thurston PUD should enter the broadband market?
Here are their responses.

Chris Sterns:
I would say yes, if we could do it with a successful business plan. Each county PUD has entered the Telecom/Fiber Optic wholesale marketplace under their own different business model. This reflected whether or not they were already an electric utility, how big they are and whether or not their model was successful. Noanet is the consortium of PUD's that provides the main conduit of the internet fiber-optic system that everyone already uses including the private telecoms and the cell phone towers which are now hooked up to it! It passes through our county along side of the federal BPA transmission lines. Electric utilities utilize fiber to run their electric utilizes more efficiently (connecting up all their electric substations) that a water utility cannot do. Both electric and water utilities have cut back on Noanet participation due to revenue losses that their electric customers made up. Some had more secure private sector participation, others dropped out since customer density was low in rural counties. I will not enter this business to become a loss leader (lose money just to get into the market). Some other counties had residents who felt this was a good idea, I don't and their commissioners rejected the federal grants to start up services because they felt they couldn't make it work profitably. I have attended along with Commissioner Russ Olsen Washington PUD Association meetings on how each PUD runs their fiber optic system. We are looking closely at what would work best here. The first place to go would be the densest areas in the north county cities. These cities have already laid down dark fiber when they dig up their streets for water line replacement. All it needs is to be connected and lit up. Other areas can be added from a profitable core area. C.S.

P.S. The federal regulators (FCC) are considering overriding our state law that limits us to only wholesale service, we are the only state with those direct restrictions and yet cable remains unregulated. They have better lobbyists! The only other proposed systems are government to government services.
 Brian Hess:
I am still researching this issue and have found some things that I think the PUD can do to assist with the challenge.  One way to assist is being the repository of information not only about telecommunications, but also water and power.  The PUD should have available data for all within the county to look at and research and then be able to make educated decisions about their choices.  The PUD currently puts out a newsletter, but only to those that receive services from it.  I believe that the newsletter should go out to all residents within the county.  While campaigning it has occurred to me that not many know that there is a PUD and what it does.  This is wrong since each property owner within the county pays taxes to the PUD.


One of the challenges we face with telecommunications, or any other utility, is the infrastructure of such utilities.  I have read a story about how cities are being challenged by the telecommunication companies when the city wishes to install fiber optics within their limits.  I am still researching this issue, but my first response is that it is not right that a city cannot provide infrastructure for its residents.  I am still researching this issue and will hope to have a better response soon.

I have also read about a city in Washington that set-up free WiFi for all within the city limits.  I am trying to find that article again to share with you.  I am also wanting to follow-up on it to see how successful it has been.  This is another way that telecommunications can be provided to all.
Hess went on for a lot longer than that, but didn't end up coming back to the internet issue at all.

Basically, Sterns seems more versed on the topic, and makes a great point towards the end. The urban part of the county seems better suited for connectivity soon. Fiber has already been laid and it would just take the PUD to light it up. Since the PUD right now is a somewhat disconnected water utility, it doesn't have the built infrastructure to just add on internet.

1 comment:

TVDinner said...

Wow, this is such an important topic, and I knew nothing about it. Thank you very much for researching this and sharing it with your audience. Thanks also to the two who replied.