PUD may put brakes on Marrowstone internet

Kate Poss Contributor
Posted 9/12/17

New twists in expanding broadband internet coverage on rural Marrowstone Island appeared last Friday that could affect the way the Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) expands the …

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PUD may put brakes on Marrowstone internet

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New twists in expanding broadband internet coverage on rural Marrowstone Island appeared last Friday that could affect the way the Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) expands the network.

“We learned there now is a private company, Marrowstone Wireless, providing fiber-optic-based broadband access on Marrowstone Island – it is already being deployed on Griffiths Point Road,” said Bill Graham, PUD resource manager. “This company plans to expand its service to all those on the island who want it. Because of this recent development, the PUD will need to consider whether or not to build a public-access fiber-optic network parallel to a private company providing similar services when there are other areas in the county that are underserved.”

Initially, the majority of respondents to the PUD’s survey on broadband expansion were from the underserved network on Marrowstone Island, Graham said, suggesting earlier that the PUD might began its expansion there. But now that focus may change.

Another detour in the process, Graham said, is that the PUD’s telecommunications manager, Jerry Wilson, has resigned.

“I am the lead on the survey, but Jerry drove the business-model details that included material and labor costs. He’s been doing the heavy lifting. I am more of a communications and marketing guy. I have no idea if he will be replaced. His last day will be Sept. 22. In light of his resignation, the PUD may need to relook at what it can do in telecommunications in general.”

The county’s public utility has owned a high-speed, open-access fiber-optic broadband network in Jefferson County for the past three years, and currently shares in its operations. The PUD is considering expanding the network’s infrastructure and is surveying customers to weigh in on receiving improved access and speed.

The survey, administered by Swedish firm COS Systems using its COS Service Zones tool, has been ongoing since May. A business plan is to be presented to the board by the end of September.

“We broke down our county into 10 zones, and of those zones, Marrowstone Island had the most respondents,” Graham said. “They have the greatest amount of interest in service. Right now, the island is currently underserved; ‘oversubscribed’ is the term. There are more connections than the equipment can handle. DSL service is degraded.”

DSL is an acronym for “digital subscriber line,” and DSL service is delivered through copper-wire telephone lines, still the primary means of service throughout the country.

However, with the advent of fiber-optic cable, laid across the Pacific in 1996, more data can be delivered more rapidly than through less robust conventional phone lines.

Jefferson County received a grant for an estimated $3.6 million in 2013 to install fiber-optic communications facilities in hospitals, first-responder stations, schools and community centers, creating a backbone from which the network can be expanded.

What needs to be worked out is how customers or the PUD will pay for the expansion, estimated to cost $6,000 per household over the course of 15-18 years.

But to lessen the sticker shock, Graham said, PUD staff is working on ways to start small, perhaps with 20-30 users.“We need to start small as proof of concept. If we can do this, we can at least break even. We’re a nonprofit, we don’t need to make money.”

FIBERHOODS, CHAMPIONS

Mason County PUD 3 has already created “fiberhoods” – find a description at pud3.org – and the Jefferson County PUD is looking at its model of financing the cost of startup.

“They’ve got the costs down to where customers pay a flat fee of about $250, then pay a construction cost, in this case $25 a month for 12 years, and then an independent service provider would bill and handle customer service,” Graham said.

“Our goal is to get costs down to a reasonable amount, the same cost-recovery model that a standard utility builds into their billing to make it pencil out,” Graham said.

Key to the expansion of the network, Graham said, are champions, advocates who excite interest in the fiber-optic expansion and attraction of open-access internet service providers (“open access” means multiple internet service providers sharing the same infrastructure). The PUD invites these champions to come aboard by going online to

jeffersonpud.servicezones.net.

“I have about 30 champions chomping at the bit to push this idea of fiber optics to the home,” Graham added. “They need information, and we want to give them certainty about how the process will be funded.”

PUD staff is working now on a business plan to present to the board by the end of September.

The survey map includes about 30,000 people in Jefferson County’s rural areas, including: Brinnon, from Cape George to Adelma Beach, Chimacum Valley, Dabob Bay, from Gardiner to Discovery Bay, from Kala Point to Tri-Area, Marrowstone Island, from Oak Bay to Port Ludlow, Port Townsend and Quilcene.

Graham emphasized that the PUD is prohibited by law from providing actual internet service to customers; the agency’s role is solely to provide the telecommunications infrastructure that delivers the content.

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