By Emma Epperly
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
The creation of a Statewide Broadband Office and an initial investment of $25 million into getting broadband into “every nook and cranny” was announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday.
“We know the reality on the ground is that there are just too many places that do not have access,” Inslee said. “So, we know that fundamentally the digital divide should not and will not be able to divide those haves and have-nots when it comes to digital and broadband access.”
Inslee’s proposal targets extending the reach of broadband through a variety of programs, including partnerships with public and private providers.
Inslee gave a press conference on his broadband initiative that included Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, and Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who will sponsor the bill along with Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy. The conference also included Washington State Public Works Board Chair Scott Hutsell, Harrington Mayor Justin Slack and Colville Tribal Council Member Susie Allen.
Slack is a telecommuter for the bank he works for on the west side of the state. He told how access to broadband changed not only his life but the town of Harrington.
“It’s been great. You know, our schools use the internet. Kids come to the library, they sit out front of our city hall, they come to the coffee shop so they can use the internet, after school after hours,” Slack said.
Increased economic opportunity and access to both telemedicine and educational resources are among other issues mentioned by Inslee as key reasons for access to broadband improve rural communities.
Inslee believes a small but focused Statewide Broadband Office is necessary to get results on this issue. The office would be under the Department of Commerce and cost $1.2 million. The governor also proposed a separate capital funding to create a grant and loan program, administered by the Public Works Board. The board would also award funding for research into feasibility and strategic planning.