Ellensburg mulling new fiber optic network of its own

Ellensburg mulling new fiber optic network of its own »Play Video
ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Paperless offices. E-mail attachments. Electronic contracts. It's how Ellensburg and seven public agencies do business.

"Beyond important. It's critical."

Kittitas County Commissioner Gary Berndt says the county relies heavily on Ellensburg's fiber optic network.

"We can exchange contracts, documents, maps and those kinds of things very rapidly if we have this in place."

Here's the issue. The current network belongs to Charter Communications.

Local agencies have used it since the late '90s for free. After the contract expired last year, Charter said it would start charging Ellensburg roughly $10,000 per month. Now, Ellensburg is looking into building its own network.

Rich Elliot is the Deputy Fire Chief of Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue. His department relies on the internet.

"High speed internet access allows us to share information quickly, pre-fire plans, all of our EMS reporting and exchange photos of like accident scenes," said Elliott.

A fiber optic network is clearly helpful for public agencies in Ellensburg. But, what about businesses and residents? Well, future access for them is up in the air.

The new network would serve the same agencies and is estimated to cost at least a million dollars to build. It would be fifteen miles of fiber above and below ground.

Ellensburg leaders say the money would come from a combination of current fees, the public agencies and a bond. A vendor to build the network could be chosen before the end of December.

Ellensburg's Energy Services Director stressed the plans for a new network are still in their preliminary stages.