Under a new state law, the Kitsap Public Utility District can now retail internet access directly to customers on top of its fiber optic broadband network.
Previously, PUDs throughout the state were only authorized to roll out internet “backbone” infrastructure that other internet service providers could use to sell access to customers. Homeowners could petition PUDs to roll out that service to their neighborhood and assess themselves for the infrastructure improvements, but would have to hope that an ISP would pick up the retail side of the equation.
With the new authority, KPUD could provide that access on its own, if a neighborhood petitioned them to, saying that no such service existed or that an existing ISP operating on the PUD’s network wasn’t providing adequate service. District commissioners could then vote to provide the retail service.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill, sponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, last month. Rolfes said the new authority would promote healthy competition that would help to improve internet service in underserved areas.
“It’s a crazy situation where it’s really the market turned upside down,” she said. “We have people in our county saying, ‘I want this service and want to pay for it,” and the companies won’t sell them their products.”
KPUD telecom business manager Angela Bennink said the PUD’s goal for that retail service would be for it to be temporary until another ISP would take over.
“The access to broadband is a 21st century necessity,” she said. “If people are funding the buildout to their homes, which in some cases, this is individuals paying the PUD to build out to their home, and they don’t have access to a provider, we wanted to be able to provide that access.”
The measure will serve as a bit of a trial balloon, as KPUD is the only such district in the state Rolfes’s bill authorizes to sell the service. Rolfes said she was hopeful that the Legislature would eventually provide authorization for PUDs throughout the state to do the same.
KPUD has built out 200 miles of fiber topic cable “backbone” for broadband access since 2000. The district hasn’t seen any petitions yet for the retail service, but is seeing petitions for forming local utility districts to finance the roll out of the backbone access, Bennink said.
“A lot of the north end north of Kingston and west of Poulsbo and west of Silverdale and south of Port Orchard and surrounding areas are in places that are considered permanently exhausted from service providers,” she said. “Upgrading is quite challenging for them. That’s where residents are reaching out to the PUD.”
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