Articles

Can One Man Bring Affordable Broadband to Rural Washington?

Jacob Kukuk hopes his new utility, which will operate as a nonproft and use volunteer staff, will keep service costs low.

By Matt Day, The Seattle Times / August 21, 2017

(TNS) — Policymakers, community activists and corporate philanthropists have spent years and billions of dollars grappling with the problem of spotty Internet access in rural America. 

A Darrington man is taking matters into his own hands. This month, Jacob Kukuk started the Darrington Internet Users Association (DIUA), Washington state’s newest Internet utility.

Kukuk moved last month from Arlington to a home closer to Darrington in rural Snohomish County. The 28-year-old software developer at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology found the Internet options lacking.

About 60 percent of residents in the communities east of Arlington along Highway 530 have Internet access slower than 5 megabits per second (Mbps), he said.

That’s a fraction of the 25 Mbps that federal regulators consider broadband.

“It doesn’t make financial sense” for big Internet companies to invest in the area, Kukuk said. His DIUA aims to bring the area a better alternative.

He figures that it can eventually offer Internet speeds of about 50 Mbps at a price of $45 a month for residential users. People with low incomes would be able to apply for reduced or free Internet. DIUA is applying for nonprofit status, which, combined with a volunteer staff, should keep costs low, he said.

Service is at least a year off, Kukuk says, but he has a blueprint for how it will work. DIUA will plug into the Seattle Internet Exchange — an entrance ramp to the global Internet — lease space on telecommunication companies’ fiber-optic cables to Arlington, and, from there, beam the signal to users with the association’s own equipment.

For now, DIUA is offering memberships — at $150 a piece — that come with an ownership stake in the venture and the right to buy its services down the line. It is also looking for board members and volunteers.

“We’re starting to get attention, and people are getting involved,” he said.

The Internet project isn’t Kukuk’s first stab at civics.

In 2015, he was behind a social media campaign to split Washington east of the Cascades into a new state, a move conceived as a way to give rural voters a greater voice in state matters by carving out liberal-leaning population centers in King County. That year Kukuk also ran unsuccessfully for the Arlington city council.

©2017 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.