Washington Rural Broadband Bill Passes Committee

Senate Bill 5935 would create the Office of Broadband Access, tasked with identifying the opportunities and barriers for 5G broadband rollout in the state.

by The Chronicle / February 5, 2018

(TNS) — On Thursday, the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee unanimously approved a bill intended to bring improved internet connections to rural Washingtonians.

Senate Bill 5935, sponsored by Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, would create a new state Office on Broadband Access and create an advisory group tasked with identifying barriers and opportunities for express Internet and 5G service. The bill, cosponsored by committee chairman Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, would also provide funding to spur immediate action.

“Superfast broadband service is just around the corner, and we need to make sure rural communities are not left behind as new technologies are deployed,” Sheldon said in a press release. “Access to high-speed service is just as important in rural areas as it is in the state’s biggest urban markets. This legislation will help ensure everyone shares in the benefits high-speed service will provide.”

According to Carlyle, “Everyone is in favor of high quality, affordable broadband, but we continue to have too many small communities and rural areas without quality service. Sen. Sheldon has taken strong action to kick deployment of broadband into high gear for the 15 percent of our state population without service. I’m excited to partner together to get this important bill to the governor’s desk.”

With that first round of approval out of the way the bill will now move to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

If approved, the new Office on Broadband Access would operate under the direction of the governor’s office in order to coordinate public and private efforts to promote broadband services and access. The officer would also set goals for high speed broadband service while identifying underserved areas in the state. The bill would set a target of at least 25 mbps download speed and 3 mbps upload speed initially, with increasing goals as technology improves.

The broadband office would also be charged with establishing a competitive grant program for local governments and tribes interested in building broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. Funding for those efforts would be derived from existing taxes paid by telecommunications providers and federal grants.

Sheldon and Carlyle were recognized by the Association of Washington Cities in December for their work on improving broadband access.

“All of us recognize the importance of broadband to this state’s economic development,” Sheldon said. “None of us want this state to be divided between Internet ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’”

The complete bill can be reviewed online at app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5935&Year=2017.

In the House, State Rep. Ed Orcutt has proposed another bill to address the issue of broadband in rural communities.

©2018 The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.