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Port Orchard poised to go fiber optic

A year after the Port Orchard City Council first addressed the idea of bringing fiber optic telecommunications service into Port Orchard, it appears the city has struck a deal with the Kitsap County Public Utilities District to do just that.

Maybe.

The finished agreement between the city and the PUD was supposed to come before the council at its regular meeting Monday night. However, because the document has been lost in legal wrangling for countless months, it was anyone’s guess whether Monday night would be the night or not.

“That’s the goal,” telecommunications committee chair Councilman John Clauson said on Friday. “I’m certainly not holding my breath.”

Clauson has been at the forefront of the fiber optics negotiations. He said the agreement, which would have allowed the PUD access to the city’s right-of-ways, often seemed to be moving forward, but hit endless dead-ends. Clauson said it eventually became a recurring ritual — the city would agree on terms, send the document to the PUD for approval and the PUD would inevitably make further changes.

Because of the difference between the PUD board meeting schedule and that of the city council, it could take weeks or even months for a single issue to be hashed out.

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Clauson quipped.

The PUD first broached the fiber optics issue in March of last year. It told the city bargain-basement prices on fiber-optic cable would make it financially feasible to lay cable “spurs” from the main backbone slated to run from Bremerton National Airport to Kingston. That cable has since been laid, with only Port Orchard and Bainbridge Island left out of the “loop.”

The PUD said it would pay the estimated $190,000 cost of the spur, but it would be up to the city to figure out how the bridge the “last mile” — find a distributor for fiber optic service.

Many South Kitsap households already have access to high-speed Internet and other services through their cable providers. However, fiber optics would allow residents to contract with out-of-state telephone companies for phone service. This could potentially offer a significant cost savings Clauson explained, because Qwest would no longer hold a monopoly in the area.

“In my personal opinion, competition is good,” he said.

Even after the agreement is signed, however, fiber will not be arriving overnight. The first proposed phase of the PUD’s plan only extends cable from Gorst to Group Health on Tremont Street. The second phase would bring the cable into downtown via a loop around City Hall and the county courthouse.

That second phase, explained PUD general manager Dave Siburg, will only be launched if it appears there is a market for fiber optic service.

“What we want to do is touch each city and take it from there,” Siburg said.

He said the PUD would likely eventually complete the loop, even in the absence of serious demand. However, he added, it would likely not be a priority for the district.

Clauson said the city will likely wait and see if a “last mile” provider steps forward. PUD business manager David Jones said that shouldn’t be an issue, because there are already three providers offering service in Kitsap County. Only one — Bremerton-based Northwest Commnet — offers telephone service, but Jones said there’s no restrictions on how many providers may sign up in the future.

“Any service provider can come and do business on our network,” he said.

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