Washington state considers new broadband program to expand internet access to underserved communities

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to a crowd of tech leaders before the 2018 GeekWire Gala. (GeekWire Photo / GeekWire)

A bill that would establish a dedicated Broadband Office to expand internet access in Washington state is working its way through the legislature at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee.

The goal is to encourage internet providers to serve more areas in the state, particularly rural regions that often don’t have reliable service.

Here are some key provisions of the bill:

  • Establishes a competitive grant and loan program to fund broadband infrastructure projects
  • Establishes a Statewide Broadband Office under the governor to serve as the nerve center for broadband planning in the state
  • Sets a goal of providing high-speed broadband to all Washington residences and businesses by 2024
  • Empowers the state to regulate rates, terms, and conditions of telecommunications providers

Devin Glaser is director of Upgrade Seattle, an organization that advocates for public internet provided by the government as a utility. He called the bill “baby steps” in the right direction but he believes it is too deferential to private internet providers.

“Over and over again throughout the legislative language they give private providers the first bite of the apple,” Glaser said. “Our belief would be that private providers should have to compete for the apple, rather than be given rights of first refusal.”

But Inslee is confident the bill will move the needle.

“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 in a blog post. “This proposal will help bring broadband access to all Washingtonians.”

The bill has cleared the Washington Senate and is currently working its way through the House.

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