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Five years ago (1997) my father came home from a national conference of Public Utility Districts (PUD) and showed me a little plastic tube full of glass fibers, which he received as a sample of the things to come. At this conference one of the discussion topics was how fiber optics will revolutionize how PUDs sell electricity.

Background

One of the more difficult questions for a PUD to answer is, "how much electricity are our ratepayers actually using?" The way this question is answered can either generate millions of dollars in revenue or millions of dollars in lawsuits. PUDs (like the one I live in) which generates way more electricity than is used by its ratepayers want to sell as much of power as possible to other PUDs while still providing for all the needs of its people.

It was proposed that if every home and business were permanently hooked into a computer network that real time information on people's electrical usage could be established down to the watt-hour, and more importantly, the PUD would know exactly how much excess they could sell. This network would also eliminate the need for a person to go around reading people's electrical meters, as the system could keep track of personal electrical usage as well.

With obsolescence in mind, it was decided that fiber optics be used in order to provide the longest lifetime for the network. However, the information regarding electrical usage would use a very small amount of the 10-megabit connection. PUDs hoped to provide additional services with excess bandwidth such as Internet, TV-On-Demand and IP Telephony. As well as creating a demand to be hooked up to the network, these services would also help curb the cost of installing the tens of thousands of miles of fiber.

Complications

After catching wind of the PUDs' plans, telephone and cable companies began lobbying against the projects. They also found a Washington State law, which restricted PUDs from selling services that were not directly a utility, and particularly communications services.

A counter lobby was taken on by the PUDs, Internet companies (who hate the TelCos) and tech-head citizens and was successful in getting the law changed. The amendment still restricts the PUDs from offering these services, however they now can wholesale their excess bandwidth to private companies that offer them. With this came the establishment of the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), a nonprofit corporation who sets and maintains protocols and network architecture for the Bonneville Power Administration, Chelan County PUD, Douglas County PUD, Grant County PUD and Okanogan County PUD.

The Future

Currently, most schools and government agencies in these areas are connected to NoaNet for Internet services. There are pilot projects for home use that are currently underway. Each PUD has different time frames but it is expected that every home and business in Chelan county will be hooked into NoaNet within the next 3 years.

Cost for these services also vary from district to district. For example, a 1.5 megabit Internet connection (service included) in Chelan County is $25 and in Grant Count is $30. Prices for TV On Demand and IP telephony haven't been established yet but should cost less than what they are currently offered for.

(A note about the connection speed: a 56k modem, ideally moves at 56 kilobits per second, although really moves at about 44 Kbps under the best conditions. A 1.5 Mbps or 1500 Kbps connection is 34 times faster than your dial-up connection for $10 more.)

For more information about Fiber Optic Networks as a Public Utility, here are a few web sites:

NoaNet
http://www.noanet.net/

Chelan County PUD
http://www.chelanpud.org/fiber/

Douglas County PUD
http://www.dcpud.org/pud-web/DCCN.htm

Grant County PUD
http://www.gcpud.org/zipp/

Okanogan County PUD
http://www.okanoganpud.org/Fiber/fiber_optics.htm

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