82-mile broadband backbone complete

The mood was jubilant July 30 as Kitsap Public Utility District (PUD) employees, elected officials, and high-tech workers celebrated the completion of an 82-mile fiber optic “backbone” which will deliver high-speed Internet throughout the county.

The fiber-optic connection will be a lure for business, speakers told the audience at the “lighting ceremony,” and telecommuting is a cost-effective way to alleviate highway congestion.

“The fact is, we will sink without telecommunications and broadband,” said Zoltán Szigethy, director of the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council.

Most Internet signals currently travel through electrical cable, but broadband fiber optics travel exponentially faster through hair-thin strands of glass. Faster travel means faster internet downloads.

The two-day conference, Connecting Kitsap to the Knowledge Economy, took place in the Admiral Theatre in downtown Bremerton.

Work on the project started in March 2002, and the PUD bonded $4.5 million to install the fiber optic cable which wires the bulk of Kitsap County. But PUD business manager David Jones warned the most expensive part — connecting homes, schools and businesses to the network — is yet to come.

How to finance the so-called “last mile” was a theme repeated throughout the event.

“We midwifed this thing with the cooperation of the PUD, but we’re sure as hell not going to nanny it,” said Ed Stern, Poulsbo City Councilman.

In other words, the superhighway is done, but elected officials must help find funds to connect end users to the network.

Officials can secure federal funding and grants, and partner with businesses to link the cable backbone to homes, schools and offices, according to Mary McClure, executive director of the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC).

Creating a local utility district, a junior taxing district which could levy voter-approved taxes, is another means of financing the work over a 10-15 year period, Jones said.

Another option would be to create a public development authority, with the ability to issue bonds through the state, Stern said.

At the July 30 lighting ceremony, an audience of 150 got a taste of broadband’s potential during a ten-minute teleconference call with Sen. Patty Murray-D and Sen. Maria Cantwell-D, who were in Washington D.C.

“(Broadband) allows you to bring the experts of the world right into the classrooms of the state,” Cantwell said.

Another theme of the conference was economic diversity. Three out of four jobs in the county are military related, Szigethy said, and bringing more telecommunications jobs into town could balance that ratio.

The next step in the project, which will be complete by January 2003, includes expanding the cable backbone into Port Orchard and Bainbridge Island, Jones said.

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