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Poulsbo Wireless Mesh Pilot Extends Internet in Washington - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #66
Washington State Law Change Transformed Fiber Project in Poulsbo
The story has been updated to fix errors. The original story described the project as a partnership but we have since learned it is a project of the Kitsap Public Utility District that is encouraged by the City.
We reported on Poulsbo, Washington, last fall after the community began a wireless pilot project providing a free high-capacity wireless mesh network throughout downtown. Kitsap Public Utility District is running the project, with encouragement from the City. An interview with Poulsbo City Council member Ed Stern filled in more details on this local project.
A wireless mesh pilot project was not the original plan. The public utility district had been investing in a fiber optic network to reduce costs for local government and provide better broadband for schools and hospitals. Stern and other city leaders also recognized that encouraging telecommuting would keep local dollars in the community. Poulsbo is very close to Seattle and city leadership hoped to draw employees from Seattle offices and encourage economic development. They offered a high quality of life and knew better broadband would draw more employers to Poulsbo.
The partners installed a fiber backbone throughout the city and had planned to expand last mile connections in the near future. Poulsbo also codified changes in conduit policy with new ordinances to better manage public rights-of-way. The code requires private providers to first use existing city conduit and the city reserves the right to lease it to them. This policy prevents unnecessary wear and tear and traffic disruption on local streets.
However, the state legislature erected barriers that derailed the full project by revoking PUD authority to offer direct retail services. To this day, public utility districts are required to wholesale access, which rarely creates enough revenue to justify the initial cost of building networks. Community leaders knew that wholesale-only models carry more risk because they split an already tight revenue stream. With the change in state law, the community re-evaluated the fiber network plan.
Poulsbo, Washington Begins Free Wireless Internet Pilot Project
Poulsbo, Washington, home to around 9,200 residents of Kitsap County, recently became the location of an "exercise in democracy" pilot project. Amy Phan of the Kitsap Sun, reports that the town is now home to a superfast wireless hotspot made possible by a new antenna installation courtesy of the the Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD). According to the article:
The wireless hot spot on Fourth Avenue taps into Poulsbo's existing fiber-optic cables, which have been installed for more than a decade, and far exceeds most standard broadband speeds available to consumers.
[Stephen Perry, superintendent of telecommunication of Kitsap Public Utility District] said the antenna can output 300 megabytes per second — compared to standard speeds of three to 50 megabytes per second — with an estimated wireless range within a half-mile of the antenna.
120 miles of fiber already weave through Kitsap County and installation of 100 more are planned, thanks to stimulus funding. The KPUD will manage and pay for the program.
The PUD hopes to also determine how users take advantage of the temporary free service with no filtering and no limits:
"If people had access to unfettered Internet, how would they use it? No one's really collected that data before. You really don't know about the antenna until you try it," said Perry, adding data collected is meant to track usage patterns and won't identify computer owners.
Dave Siburg of Kitsap PUD called the pilot program an "exercise in democracy."
The data collected may be used to determine an economic model for expansion of the KPUD's current telecommunications offerings. Also from the article:
Councilman Ed Stern, who pushed for the city to explore high-speed broadband earlier this year, said expanding broadband capabilities could mean a strengthened economy for the area.
With a large amount of employees in Poulsbo commuting to King, Pierce or Snohomish counties for work, he said, having reliable and fast broadband could allow those employees to work from home, and spend more money locally.