Ketchikan Public Utilities Telecommunications Division has been working toward offering cell service for a while, and is on track to start selling Verizon-brand phones and other products by this summer, adding a third wireless phone option to the Ketchikan market.
About two years ago, KPU Telecommunications partnered with the national cell-service company Verizon to install a 4G LTE wireless system in Ketchikan.
Since then, anyone coming to Ketchikan with a Verizon phone has used the KPU system, said KPU Telecom Manager Ed Cushing.
“So, for example, a tourist arrives on a cruise ship and they’re a Verizon customer, their device says Verizon 4G LTE, and it works perfectly in Ketchikan and they think they’re on the Verizon system,” he said. “And effectively they are, although technically, they are roaming on KPU’s system.”
And, the city-owned telecommunications company then receives payment for that use from Verizon. Last year, that revenue was a little more than a million dollars.
But, you still can’t buy a local Verizon-brand cell phone here. The only wireless phone services available for purchase in Ketchikan are through GCI and AT&T.
Soon, though, that will change.
“We have finished negotiating a contract with Verizon that will enable us to open a Verizon wireless store,” said Cushing.
That contract will go in front of the Ketchikan City Council this month, and “if everything moves along as programmed, we think it will be late July, early August, and we will have a Verizon wireless store open in The Plaza mall inside the KPU Telecom store, wherein which we will be offering various Verizon cell phones and/or other wireless devices.”
At one point, KPU had planned to offer its own branded cell service, but Cushing said that turned out to be less practical than simply providing a local source of Verizon-branded products, for a couple of reasons.
One: “We thought that a Verizon-branded product would be far more competitive in the market than a KPU-branded product.”
And two: “It’s very complex to manage off-island roaming agreements. That is, once a KPU wireless phone leaves the island and starts roaming around the world, we have to have a series of roaming agreements in place that are time consuming and complex to implement and manage. All that goes away if instead we’re selling a Verizon-branded product because Verizon takes care of all that.”
This way, KPU can focus on selling devices and adding more Verizon customers to KPU’s system. More Verizon customers on the island means more roaming revenue for KPU.
“Roaming is where the money is,” Cushing said.
Because the devices will be the Verizon brand, KPU won’t be able to offer special cell-service deals – all that is up to the national company. But, Cushing says, it’s possible that KPU will be able to bundle wireless product sales with KPU’s current services, which are landline telephone, internet and television.
KPU’s local competitor for all those services is GCI, an Alaska-based company.