Kitsap to allow the retail sale of broadband by a public utility district

KITSAP COUNTY — Kitsap Public Utility District will be able to ensure more residents have reliable access to retail broadband service under a measure passed this week by the state Legislature.

Current state law allows counties to own and operate broadband networks, but they can only sell wholesale access, according to the utility district.

ESSB 6034, sponsored by state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, will make Kitsap the first county in the state to allow the retail sale of broadband by a public utility district.

“There are many residents on the Kitsap Peninsula who feel ignored by the big telecom companies,” Rolfes said in a news release.

“This is a smart approach that will make sure every resident has access to robust, fast internet connections,” she said. “In the end, we all share the same goal of universal access at an affordable price and this is another step forward.”

KPUD has built 200 miles of high capacity fiber optic cable throughout the county since 2000, but it has been unable to fully protect customers who find themselves with no reliable internet service provider. Several communities have petitioned the Board of Kitsap PUD to extend broadband infrastructure into their neighborhoods.

They have formed their own local utility districts and assessed themselves — some as much as $14,000 per property — to finance the cost of infrastructure construction.

“While we continue to build out this infrastructure, we want to be able to ensure these customers are not stranded should no private internet service provider (ISP) agree to provide retail service over the district’s network,” said Bob Hunter, Kitsap PUD general manager.

“Our goal is to see robust competition among ISPs that operate on the district’s open-access network, but this legislation is needed to safeguard the substantial investments our citizens are making.”

Legislative bill ESSB 6034 will allow Kitsap PUD to provide retail service to these communities in the event that no private internet service provider agrees to provide service or services being provided by a private ISP do not meet established service level standards.

“It’s a really about consumer protection, especially for our residents in rural areas with limited options,” Rolfes said. “It’s absolutely vital that every citizen has the ability to get online.”