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KPU Telecommunications, Caterpillar Yellow?
An Open Letter to The City Mayor
by Johnny Rice


October 26, 2004

Dear Mr. Mayor,

First of all I would like to thank you for embracing the Sitnews forum as a place to discuss community events etc.

If you can spare the time I would like you to discuss with us on this online forum another subject of local interest that you have played an important role in. The future development of data/telecommunications in Ketchikan

Recently, the Ketchikan City Council gave permission for KPU to convert the island telephone network into what has been presented to you and the public as a supposedly positive revenue generating system labeled simply as a Video Service Provider. I call it a television network.

With the guidance of a highly informed and these days seemingly very technically oriented city council we seem to now be entering head first and full speed ahead into the wild and high paced world of bundling data...

Voice from who knows where, bundled with video of who knows what, lumped together with email and so called 'public service' channels? Not to mention a porn channel or two thrown in as a pay-per-view option to assure profit. I just can't believe I woke up one day and read about this in the paper.. But by golly here it is.. And from what I hear it's going to cost a pretty penny more than the 3 million dollars advertised.

Who will be picking the channel lineup? Who will be regulating the content of these so called public service channels? The Ketchikan City Council?

Will these local 'public service' channels generate ad revenue from various 'sponsors'? Will existing 'media companies' on or off this island be involved in the packaging of these local media productions? The whole thing just strikes me as odd.

What makes it even tougher for me to swallow is that leading up to this decision to put the telecommunication bond out there for a vote we had little or no coverage by the local paper about the details and reasoning for this extravagant plan put forward.

However, we did think it was prudent to invest in a slick advertising campaign paid for with tax dollars to introduce the concept into the public dialogue? Do you think this is a healthy way to do public business? With a tidy advertising campaign ahead of a vote, but little in the way of raw information for people to make an informed decision? Especially on such an important issue!

Do the citizens of Ketchikan really understand what they voted for and why? Do they know whether or not what they did will in the long run discourage investment in other forms of next generation communication technology on this island? For example, the hypothetical bi-directional video telephony application that greatly enhances the communication platform for the Ketchikan B&B business owner who wishes markets this kind of service to clients employed by a high powered tech firm in Bangalore?

I'm fairly confident the underlying reason for this move is an attempt to slow down the migration of landline to wireless number porting by Ketchikan residents that's surely to happen soon.

Are you aware of number porting? Granted, I can't watch every council meeting.. But to my knowledge, it is a term that I have never heard discussed in the council chamber or at least read about local paper. It is probably one of the most significant terms in telecommunications history. Why has it not been discussed? Have you been briefed on it? If not, let me brief you now.

As of May 2004, the FCC issued a directive which enables telephone customers across the country, including here in Ketchikan, to carry their existing wireless or land line number, yes the 247 or 225 prefix that rings through the copper jack in your wall today, to or from a cellular phone, and from one cellular phone to another.

You can also if you wish migrate a cellular phone number into the jack in your wall. But it's generally expected that most customers who elect to move their number will do so by cutting the conventional phone cord and moving it to a mobile telephony device.

Needless to say, this is one of the main reasons that there is so much volatility in the telecommunication industry today.

I'm not sure if you are up to speed with the latest news on how the big boys are dealing with this challenge, but I suggest you or anyone else interested in the subject click the following links to help shed light on the complexity of the challenges that lie ahead for us.

Title: Bells Look to Fiber After Regulatory Wins and Title: Verizon Betting on A Bundle -- Both printed in the Washington Post tech section on 10-22-2004.

As you can see by the content in these articles, the definition of telephone itself is being turned completely on its head as we speak. Literally.

Right this very day in fact, if you so desire, you can sign up with GCI for your internet data via the cable that comes through your wall, use a Direct TV for your entertainment, and generate dial tone with a adapter plugged into that same GCI cable modem. What's missing? You guessed it. A traditional copper phone jack.

The Vonage dial tone does not have accurate local 911 service available yet. But as far as I know, 911 service works from a cellular phone on this Island.

So how does an existing telco adjust? Good question..

I personally think investing in entertainment is not the answer. Providing robust advanced two way IP communication platforms for businesses and serious data consumers is. And even though I'm not an expert in the field, I feel that my assessment of this situation is as good as the other local decision makers in this game. This does not make me feel smug or happy. It alarms me, and should alarm you.

A number of years ago the selling of our local phone company was considered and after considerable debate rejected by the people of Ketchikan. At the time, I and I'm sure others in this community never imagined in their wildest dreams that the potential buyer known then as PTI, and now known by all as ACS would be selling little CDMA 2000 plugin cards that let you navigating the world wide web on a 1MB connection, and lets you roam your home, home town, state and on out to Airports and major cities across the country. But today they do just that. Do we do the same?

I think Ketchikan should look very hard and close at asking the question again, "should we sell the telephone network?"

I think we should put it in the hands of a professional triple or quadruple play company that is more seasoned and familiar with the current technical elements of this mind-blowing evolution taking place in the telecommunication industry.

Let their executives pour over the data, attend the high powered trade shows in Las Vegas and New York, and come back and turn on the switch with equipment that makes economic sense, and works well with outside and inside telecommunication infrastructure.

Let them and their lawyers try to define what the term peer to peer as defined by federal court means to them and their company.

If we want to do something as a community that is a step in the right direction, we should look long and hard at finding someone out there who is willing to step in and partner up with us by hooking this community directly into the fiber pipe that connects directly to the backbone down in the lower 48.

Why not? It looks like the community of Kodiak pulled it off recently.

Check out this article titled City, borough make 911 deal - Published on Friday, September 17th, 2004 - Read the details here.

What do you think Mr. Mayor? And for all the other City Council members who post on this forum, what do you think?

I am not a telecommunication executive. Just a crusty old fisherman with a BS degree in a technical field that is completely unrelated.

Except for the fact that last week at a City Council meeting a council member actually asked the city manager if he was sure that a new switch they were about to purchase did or did not come painted in Caterpillar Yellow.. That is related to my field, but with all due respect it has nothing to do with IP telephony and switching.

If you can find the time to respond to my concerns in this wonderful web forum provided as a service by, it would be greatly appreciated.

And if someone out there on the www is better informed than me in this very complex world of telecommunications please don't hesitate to correct me if my comments are off the mark.

Thank you

Johnny Rice
Commercial fisherman.. Stay at home dad. Die hard gadget fan
Ward Cove, AK - USA



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