Conference targets high-speed internet access on Peninsula

North Olympic Peninsula Broadband Symposium to be held March 18-19 in Blyn

EDITOR’S NOTE: A quote from Will O’Donnell, Jefferson County Public Utility District spokesman, has been removed from this story as inaccurate.

BLYN — A two-day, two-county summit on improving access to broadband internet on the North Olympic Peninsula is planned in Blyn on March 18-19.

The North Olympic Peninsula Broadband Symposium will be at the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Red Cedar Hall at 1033 Old Blyn Highway.

The event is free, but due to limited space attendees must register for the event at tinyurl.com/PDN-Register. Meals will be provided as part of the registration.

The symposium is hosted by the North Olympic Development Council (NODC) and sponsored by the Jefferson and Clallam public utility districts, Team Jefferson/EDC, the Port of Port Angeles and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

A grant from the Seattle Foundation underwrote part of the program.

Broadband experts

“We are excited to bring together experts on broadband to work with local government and local citizens to address the need for affordable high-speed internet in our region,” said NODC Executive Director Karen Affeld.

Affeld has been to a number of meetings where the issue of broadband has come up.

“They all want higher speeds at affordable rates,” she said.

“There was a focus on the problems, not necessarily how and where we start. The goal is to find groups of people who want to work on this in certain areas, for example on Marrowstone Island. We want to create broadband action teams. The NODC will follow up with those teams and help with grant writing and facilitating meetings.”

Will O’Donnell, spokesman for the Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD), said listening to governmental agencies, community institutions, private businesses, community associations and individuals share their thoughts about their internet requirements, and hearing from experts that have been part of successful programs throughout the county, could help develop collaborative solutions on ways to expand infrastructure and access on the Peninsula.

Nicole Clark, Clallam County PUD spokeswoman, said the need is great.

“We get approached by homeowner associations and the tribes to put in the last miles of broadband in rural counties,” Clark said. “We hope to be able to bring people together to get grants and solve this issue.”

Symposium attendees will learn about the counties’ infrastructure and technology gaps, explore other rural communities’ successes, and discover what funding and technology opportunities are available.

Experts will conduct roundtable discussions and there will be facilitated breakout sessions focused on creating action groups. Internet service provider (ISP) and technology consultants, rural broadband experts and action group facilitators will be available for individual discussion.

The program for March 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., features presentations, panels and networking.

The event’s keynote speaker is Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.

Mitchell is a leading national expert on community networks and internet access. He also runs MuniNetworks.org, an online clearinghouse of information about local government policies to improve internet access.

Mitchell will provide an overview of what broadband is, why it’s an essential utility service and how local communities across the country have created public/private coalitions to bring affordable high-speed broadband internet to unserved and underserved communities.

Microsoft Business Operations and Project Manager Vince Liberatore will discuss the Airband Initiative US team.

O’Donnell said Microsoft’s Airband Initiative is “a newer technology model that uses a combination of fixed wireless technologies — including unassigned broadcast spectrum often referred to as “TV white spaces” — to connect rural residents to high speed internet.”

John Flanagan, broadband policy advisor to Gov. Jay Inslee, will attend the meeting remotely.

Flanagan will provide an update on broadband legislation and funding that’s currently under consideration by legislators in Olympia.

Ben Merkle from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s office will present current federal activity regarding broadband. The rest of the day will include a local ISP roundtable discussion and breakout sessions.

On March 19, the program will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Representatives from the state Commerce Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Economic Development Administration will discuss broadband grant and loan opportunities.

Monica Babine of Washington State University’s Program for Digital Initiatives, WSU Stevens County Extension Director Debra Hansen, and Karen Perry of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration Broadband USA program will provide an introduction on how to form broadband action teams and will facilitate breakout groups through the process.

“There are many companies, organizations, governmental agencies, small and home-based businesses and individuals who want improved broadband on the North Olympic Peninsula,” O’Donnell said.

“We are looking for funding opportunities and partnerships.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].

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