Rural broadband bill gains momentum
An AWB Rural Jobs priority is gaining momentum in the Legislature.
A bill that would strengthen and expand broadband internet in rural Washington has passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support and is scheduled for a vote Thursday in the House Technology and Economic Development Committee.
Senate Bill 5935 creates the Governor's Office on Broadband Access within the state Department of Commerce. The office would coordinate public and private efforts to ensure statewide broadband access.
The bill also authorizes some public utility districts to provide end-user internet services on the PUD's broadband network, and some port districts to provide wholesale internet services. It would also require cities and towns to enact an ordinance for issuing master permits for siting and installing small cell facilities.Washington’s rural counties have struggled to keep up with urban areas in several key economic indicators, including access to broadband internet. An estimated 200,000-400,000 people in mostly rural Washington lack access to broadband.
AWB hosted two summits on rural job creation last year and launched the Rural Jobs Task Force in an effort to remove barriers to help rural Washington succeed.
“The digital divide separates communities from the world,” AWB’s Mike Ennis told lawmakers in a hearing last week.
“And if we want to improve economic prosperity in these rural areas…If we want employers to bring high-paying, family wage jobs to places like Addy and Colfax, if we want the next generation to return to Grays Harbor and Aberdeen after graduating college, then we must find ways to provide them the tools they need to succeed. And that starts with rural broadband.”
The legislation builds on the progress made by Washington’s private telecommunications companies in recent years, Ennis said. That progress includes nearly $9.5 billion invested in telecom infrastructure throughout the state. Those companies also employ about 22,000 people with good jobs.
To make your voice heard on Senate Bill 5935, call your legislator at 1.800.562.6000 or visit www.leg.wa.gov.
For more information, contact Ennis at 360.943.1600 or by email at MikeE@awb.org.