Inslee proposes broadband access for all

Bringing internet and telecommunications service to every corner of Washington

Harrington is a rural community of about 400 people in Lincoln County about an hour west of Spokane. In 2012, it was one of several communities whose library received a high-speed fiber connection as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Lincoln County Public Development Authority (PDA) believed if their entire downtown – not just the library — could access broadband, then people interested in a rural lifestyle might consider relocating their businesses there. Knowing that Harrington is too small for a large private internet service provider (ISP) to make the investment needed to bring service to its citizens, the Lincoln PDA made a deal: It asked the library’s private ISP to become downtown Harrington’s provider.

With funding from local tax revenue, the PDA purchased the necessary equipment, the provider installed it and committed to maintain service to the downtown area. The project went live. Just two years after formulating a plan, Harrington had gigabit internet service with equipment purchased, owned, and operated locally — which cost the PDA less under $10,000.

Harrington Mayor Justin Slack said his family moved to Harrington from Seattle in 2013.

“I was able to use the high speed connection available here to maintain my career as a commercial property appraiser,” Slack said. “We opened up a coffee shop at the site of the old post-office as a space for folks to use the service, and eventually had the idea to create a co-working space for other teleworkers like me.”

Slack said ‘The Post and Office’ currently serves the Harrington community with a high speed connection, and allows local residents to maintain their urban jobs at companies like Microsoft and Indeed.com. Nearby, the historic ‘Electric Hotel’ is being renovated and a new storefront that sells jewelry and artwork is exploring e-commerce.

“It just goes to show that with a little help from government, some local dollars, and community support, we can make a big difference in rural Washington,” Slack said.

That’s the difference Gov. Jay Inslee hopes to see in more communities statewide. Today, he was joined by Slack as well as legislative and tribal leaders to detail his proposal to expand broadband.

Inslee proposes a new Statewide Broadband Office (SBO) to serve as the central planning and coordinating body for public and private efforts to deploy broadband at the state level. The SBO will be an information clearinghouse for local, state and federal programs. It will set high-level policy, develop and implement a statewide plan, and incentivize deployment of quality and affordable service to Washingtonians in every corner of the state.

Mayor Justin Slack discusses broadband access in Olympia, January 16, 2019 (Office of the Governor photo)

The governor’s budget also includes funding for a competitive grant and loan program to be administered by the Public Works Board. Funding will be awarded for the acquisition, installation, and construction of infrastructure that supports broadband services, and to fund strategic planning for deployment.

The governor’s proposal also recognizes the need to work with both public and private sector groups to support innovative delivery methods, including promising new technologies like airband (used in radio communications) and low-orbit satellites.

“It just goes to show that with a little help from government, some local dollars, and community support, we can make a big difference in rural Washington,” Slack said.

Inslee’s broadband plan was informed by what he heard last summer when he embarked on a three-day tour of the state. He heard how crucial broadband access is for businesses, students, healthcare providers, tribal communities, and public safety advocates in areas with no access to reliable internet connection.

“I heard loud and clear from Washingtonians that access to quality and affordable broadband internet helps create jobs, improves public safety and health services and increases educational opportunities,” Inslee said. “Broadband is the single most important economic development tool we have.”

“The digital divide should not limit any Washingtonian’s ability to learn, innovate or connect through robust internet access, whether it is students researching ideas at home, first responders handling an emergency or entrepreneurs launching a business,” Inslee said. “This proposal will help bring broadband access to all Washingtonians.”

Inslee met high school students in Quincy who are part of the 4‑H Tech Changemakers, sponsored by Microsoft. The program works to increase access to technology, including broadband. (Office of the Governor photo)

A lack of quality broadband impacts kids trying to do their homework, entrepreneurs hoping to launch a startup, and rural employees who work remotely for companies in bigger cities. Federal data grossly underestimates how much of Washington is currently served by broadband.

“Rapid technological innovation is transforming every school, every hospital, every company and every industry in Washington,” Inslee said. “Broadband service that allows citizens to connect to this innovation has become the critical infrastructure need of the 21st century.”

“Educational equity demands every student, classroom and school have high speed broadband,” said Sen. Lisa Wellman. “But so many children in our rural communities are falling behind because those communities don’t have this foundational infrastructure. To ensure prosperity for each Washingtonian, we must ensure that all communities statewide have access to high-speed internet and the opportunities that it affords.”

Harrington Mayor Justin Slack, Rep. Zach Hudgins, Susie Allen of Colville Tribal Council, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Lisa Wellman, and Scott Hutsell, chair of Washington State Public Works Board, January 16, 2019 (Office of the Governor photo)

This proposal continues work that Inslee began last year.

In July, he signed a memorandum of understanding with the Quileute Tribe, the UTC and CenturyLink that will bring high-speed internet to the tribe’s Lower Village, as well as to property outlined in the tribe’s Move to Higher Ground project. The project moves key parts of the community, including the tribal school and senior center, out of the tsunami risk zone.

Last session, the governor helped secure $10 million in Community Economic Revitalization Board funding for broadband projects in remote areas, and signed Senate Bill 6034 and House Bill 2664 into law. SB 6034 allows Kitsap Public Utilities District to provide retail broadband service to its customers under narrow circumstances, and ensures that Kitsap PUDs customers don’t lose the service they already have. HB 2664 made sure that all port districts in the state have the ability to acquire and operate broadband infrastructure for wholesale services to ISPs.

When Inslee was in Congress, he worked on legislation directing the Federal Communications Commission to identify unused bands that could be used for broadband access.

Inslee’s 2019–21 budget highlights.

READ: Expanding broadband to every corner of Washington topic of tour