PO signs on for broadband survey project

Port Orchard, on Monday, was the first city to sign up for a new survey whose purpose is to analyze the broadband fiber optic-based needs of Kitsap County.

Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council executive director Mary McClure hopes it won’t be the last.

At Monday night’s regular City Council meeting, the council voted 6-1 to contribute up to $900 toward a survey that will allow it to analyze its broadband needs and then combine that information with similar data collected from other county agencies.

“I’m thinking of it as an investment, not an expense,” said Councilmember Carolyn Powers.

The KRCC has contracted with Keyport naval base to survey the county’s 75-odd municipal agencies to find out what they need and want from a broad-band connection. The issue has been a key one ever since the Kitsap Public Utilities District arranged to have a “backbone” of fiber optic cable laid the length of the county — a project that has been ongoing since 2002. The question of what to do for the “last mile” — how to connect individual users to the huge conduit — has been a problem no one yet has been able to solve.

“We have to figure out what everybody needs to commit to it,” McClure said. “(The agencies) don’t want to make a decision until they know what they need and what it’ll cost.”

The problem is, McClure admitted, everyone seems to need different things. Most of the cities are very excited about the idea of tele-conferencing — a big draw for potential broadband users — but aren’t sure what else would make sense to have. In addition, the potential user group takes in pretty much everyone who provides municipal services of some sort: fire districts, sewer districts, port districts, tribal governments, school districts and so forth.

And not all of these agencies have the background to be able to accurately asses what their broadband needs might be, McClure added.

The Keyport survey is expected to solve all of these problems by producing a comprehensive look at what individuals, agencies and governments both need and want from broadband. The results, McClure said, can then be used to set up partnerships between agencies who have similar needs.

The survey would also help identify what the county doesn’t need and help prevent inadvertent “overbuilding,” McClure said.

Most are excited by the offer.

“I think this is a study that would help us all in the county better identify our needs,” said Port Orchard City Councilman John Clauson. “I think it’s a huge benefit.”

Kitsap County will be paying the lion’s share of the study’s cost — estimated to be between $20,000 and $30,000. The cities will each pay between $600 and $900. Other districts, such as schools and ports, will pay nothing.

“We’re not asking for (them to pay) because we want to get it done,” McClure said, pointing out that many smaller districts have tiny budgets with little room for non-essential expenses.

If the other three cities sign on soon, McClure said, the KRCC might be able to hit its goal of having the surveys back before the first of the year. McClure believes that if this study is done properly, it might be the only one the county will ever need.

“I think we’re definitely going to get our money’s worth,” she said.

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