POULSBO — Like runners in a marathon, members of the Kitsap Regional Telecommunications Committee are discovering the “last mile” is definitely the most difficult — especially when it’s all uphill.
The finish line will be in sight this summer, when the Public Utility District fiber-optic backbone is completed through the county, but the committee needs a second wind before businesses and residents can break the tape.
While the group met Tuesday morning with the hopes of doing just this, it quickly became apparent that few members were certain what direction the economic development race was being run in.
Moderator Doña Keating of Professional Options had her hands full trying to keep the telecom committee on task at the session, pointing out time and time again that “action items” had to be addressed. The items, she said, were vital because they will assist the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council as it attempts to establish the public end of the last-mile solution and connect the PUD backbone to users county wide.
“We’re all working toward a last-mile solution,” Keating said, noting that cooperation between both private and public entities was needed. “There hasn’t been that partnership.”
A champion is being sought by both the KRCC and the KRTC to facilitate the improved telecommunications access but, so far, the committees haven’t had much luck. Even so, they’re still in the race.
“In my mind, there’s only one (utility) that goes to all the homes and that’s the power company,” Wini Jones of the Bainbridge Economic Council, expressing the consensus of the entire group.
PUD Commissioner John Armstrong said of all the possible entities that could provide the solution, the power company was the obvious choice. Although the committee agreed the last mile was certainly attainable, several at the session were not convinced whether Kitsap County residents would be willing to hook-up to the service once offered.
The last mile is about access, said Nancy Stump of West Sound Technology Professionals Association, but it is primarily about bringing new telecom-related businesses to Kitsap County. Such companies would bolster the local economy further, she added.
So, where does the new backbone leave the average Internet user?
Members of the Kitsap Regional Telecommunications Committee weren’t sure.
According to Jones, an August 2001 survey of Bainbridge Island residents indicated that 94 percent of homes in that city have computers; 84 percent use the Internet regularly; and 57 percent want faster service. Islanders were willing to pay about $40 each month for the improved service, she added.
“Bainbridge’s demographic is not the same as the rest of the county,” Keating said, sparking a discussion about who exactly needed such access and who would be willing to pay for it.
“Some people can afford that $40 a month but some gray-haired Q-tips in Hansville can’t,” said Armstrong, who hails from Hansville.
“There’s always a huge bunch of people who want, want, want but when it’s time to sign the check they won’t do it,” Jim Kendall of Telebyte Northwest remarked.
To get an interest reading, the KRTC plans to seek assistance from its parent entity, the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council, and conduct a larger telecommunications survey.
In the meantime, a private-sector subcommittee from the KRTC will explore and facilitate last-mile solutions, Keating said. The KRCC is already seeking public answers to the problem and recently hired a consultant to serve as a telecommunications chiropractor of sorts who will help tweak everything into place.