Clock ticking on SK fiber optics

All that currently stands in the way of fiber-optic cable coming to Port Orchard is a dotted line for the city to sign on.

Thanks to bargain-basement prices on fiber-optic cable, the Kitsap County Public Utility District (PUD) is encouraging outlying communities to sign on to its cable-laying project, now underway in the Silverdale area. Two cities — Port Orchard and Bainbridge Island — are not in the path of the cable backbone planned to extend from the Bremerton National Airport to Kingston. However, the PUD has offered to run spurs out to both communities as soon as the cities sign franchise agreements giving the PUD permission to do so.

“It’s not like (the cities) have to make a decision now,” said PUD general manager Dave Siburg. “It’s more of a timing issue.”

If the cities sign on now, PUD can get cheap cable and have it laid within the same contract as the rest of the backbone. If a city delays, a new cable-spooling contract will have to be drafted and PUD will have to pay whatever the going rate for cable is at that point. This, Siburg said, could add six to eight months to the project schedule and mean the late-comer city would have to wait much longer for its connection.

The reason Port Orchard has not been a priority for the PUD, at least so far as cable distribution is concerned, is the perceived lack of enthusiasm from Port Orchard’s business community. Siburg said when the PUD did a study of community business’ potential interest in fiber optics, Port Orchard fell to the bottom of the list. He said there was barely any measurable interest from local businesses, even though the city’s political figures expressed serious interest in the technology.

The Port of Bremerton has already signed up for a spur to be run into Olympic View Industrial Park, even though the cable already runs by its front doorstep. Up until now, any tenant wanting fiber-optic access would have to pay for its own mini-spur, which no one has been willing to do yet. However, the port is confident fiber optics will be very popular in the park and a major draw for future tenants.

“We can honestly (now) say we will have fiber optics inside the park,” said port real property manager Tim Thompson.

This is the sort of enthusiasm PUD said it was looking for from communities and found along the Bremerton-Silverdale-Poulsbo route it originally planned out. Although some counties use fiber optics to track utilities such as electricity meters, Siburg said that’s not what PUD wants cable for.

“The reason we’re putting it in is for wholesale purposes for the county,” Siburg said.

In order to recoup the cost of installing the cable — an estimated $4.5 million for the infrastructure and electronics — PUD must be able to sell cable access to someone willing to handle service distribution.

PUD does not provide service to homes and businesses. It relies on private corporations or public utilities agencies to bridge the gap between the backbone and the customers.

“We can only go to the door, so to speak,” said Lee Caldwell, the PUD commissioner who represents South Kitsap.

Those service providers will pay PUD for the privilege of using its hardware via fees which PUD has yet to establish. However, the providers will only pay for the access customers actually use. If few in the Port Orchard area use the fiber, PUD will not earn much back on its investment.

This, eventually, will have an effect on PUD’s further efforts in the area.

“We won’t be enhancing what we put in there unless there’s a market need,” Siburg said.

Regardless, PUD’s current goal is to run at least some fiber to all four of Kitsap’s cities and to Kitsap County’s offices at the courthouse.

The county has already signed a franchise agreement with the PUD but, in order to run fiber via city-owned right-of-ways, Port Orchard must also sign an agreement. The county can only give permission for the PUD to use county-owned property and the courthouse sits within Port Orchard city limits.

“We can’t get to the courthouse without the city franchise,” Siburg said.

Port Orchard City Engineer Larry Curles said although the city has not fully realized the importance of haste in this matter, the pace has picked up since discussion began with the PUD in November.

He said staff, at the request of City Councilmember John Clauson, has drafted an ordinance which would serve as the required franchise agreement. In addition, the council study session on fiber optics, which was scheduled for April 23, will likely be re-scheduled at Monday’s council meeting for the first week in April. Curles said he also expects Mayor Jay Weatherill at the same meeting to also make the council’s telecommunications committee — now ad-hoc — a permanent fixture.

“Port Orchard needs to mobilize and get active,” Curles said. “The city needs to focus on this one issue.”

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