Jefferson County broadband expansion to 'make us richer'
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Katherine Baril, Meredith Wagner and Roger Harrison, respectively representing Washington State University, Jefferson County Libraries and Jefferson Healthcare, inspect a map of the state's projected broadband connections at a meeting in Port Hadlock last week. Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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The expansion of a broadband Internet infrastructure in Jefferson County will make high-speed Internet more accessible to all residents -- and improve both business potential and quality of life, says Washington State University Extension Executive Director Katherine Baril.

"This will make us richer," Baril told Team Jefferson members recently.

Baril also discussed with the three Jefferson County commissioners this week the plans for the $3.2 million in federal stimulus funds given to Jefferson County for broadband network construction.

Broadband is a technology in which multiple strings of high-capacity fiber strands carry high volumes of video and audio.

The cable proposed for Jefferson County will carry enough bandwidth that every county resident could have enough access to meet any foreseeable audio needs, said Greg Marney, CEO of Tacoma-based Northwest Open Access Network -- or NoaNet -- which has built partial broad band networks on the North Olympic Peninsula and which will build the expansion in Jefferson County.

NoaNet's chief technology officer, William Kopp, said that the fiber coverage in Jefferson County is sporadic and expensive now.

Broadband use is limited mostly to government agencies and corporations that can afford the high price.

The new, subsidized infrastructure will decrease the price of entry for everyone, Kopp said. Expanding the network will make it accessible to residents and small businesses.

Customers will pay less for broadband than what they are paying today for cable, high-speed or dial-up service, Kopp said.

Plans are in place to install more than 30 broadband sites at "anchor institutions" in East Jefferson County, including schools, hospitals, and libraries.

Once connected to these locations, private sector service providers can hook into the network and provide broadband access to homes and businesses.

Connecting rural areas of Jefferson County to broadband will bring about a new level of information exchange, so that residents can market themselves worldwide while receiving information necessary for their businesses or their health, Baril said.

"Turning us into a connected community will help us to create a new economy that will benefit us for 50 years to come," she said.

Broadband service can accommodate graphics -- intensive programs such as video and large amounts of data transfer.

This will change leisure time, since people will be more able to order movies on demand and carry on video chats with relatives on other continents.

It also will change the way people live, since video-conferencing can streamline everything from job interviews to doctor appointments.

Baril is taking the lead on the project, as education is one of the areas with the greatest potential, she said.

The ability to teach classes online opens up educational possibilities to groups like single mothers and senior citizens who do not have the ability to travel, Baril said.

Health care is another area that can benefit, said Jefferson Healthcare information services director Roger Harrison.

Currently, patients get basic treatment in Port Townsend but must travel to Seattle or Tacoma to see specialists.

With a broadband hookup, a patient could connect with a specialist online while visiting a local physician, which allows a long-distance diagnosis.

The local physician can conduct hands-on tests, while the specialist offers advice about the treatment, saving the patent four hours on the road.

Baril said that broadband will open up access for all of the county, not just the population centers.

Plans are to connect Quilcene and Brinnon in a way that encourages businesses to grow, she said.

The broadband subsidy that brings $3.2 million to the county is part of a $185 million stimulus package, which includes $45 million in local matching funds statewide.

Jefferson County government kicked in $.1.6 million of this, credited for the construction of five emergency broadcast towers in East Jefferson County on which broadband nodes can be located.

A percentage of this was an in kind contribution, with the remainder credited as cash, County Administrator Philip Morley said.

The contribution was made without any capital expenditure, Morley said.

On Friday, Baril said the project would not have happened if not for the county's contribution to the matching fund requirement.

The next step is to file a plan with the federal Department of Commerce within 30 days followed by an environmental impact assessment in 60 days, after which time construction can begin.

The project must be completed statewide in three years, but Jefferson County will get service sooner than that because of its small size and the fact that it is one of the first locations in line, Marney said.

The lines will be buried except in places where utility poles exist and will allow the one-inch cable, which has 48 strands of high-capacity wire, to use the existing poles.

In most cases the buried cable will use a city or county right of way, or lease land from private property owners, Marney said.

For a video of the grant presentation produced by Washington State University Extension, see http://tinyurl.com/29lgu7h.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 26. 2010 12:22AM
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