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, Jan. 16.

CBC member Susie Allen speaks alongside Inslee about tribes’ need for connectivity in Washington

OLYMPIA - In his proposed 2019-2020 budget, Washington Governor Jay Inslee has put forth a new Statewide Broadband Office that he says will help bring broadband connectivity to “every nook and cranny” of the state.

In a press conference, last week, Inslee hailed the newly proposed SBO as one that will centralize planning and coordination of public and private efforts to deploy broadband at the state level.

“You cannot overstate how important access to broadband is in today’s world,” said Inslee. “ We know that there are too many places where [broadband] is not available in the state of Washington. We know that the federal assessment about how many places have broadband is wildly too optimistic.”

Inslee was joined by a number of political leaders from across the state, including Colville Business Council member Susie Allen, who spoke in support of the effort to expand broadband into rural parts of the state.

“I have been working on broadband initiatives on our reservation for many years, but unfortunately, substantially, we still remain under-served and unserved, without broadband services,” said Allen. “The Colville Tribes have invested several millions of dollars to begin to meet this need, but we require assistance from the state and federal agencies to complete this work… The lack of broadband service creates not just an inconvenience, but poses real safety concerns throughout the reservation.”

Allen, who currently sits on a Federal Communication Commission Intergovernmental Advisory Committee, noted the Colville Tribes have invested $6 million to date in installing broadband connectivity. She noted the governor’s proposed legislative would provide an avenue for tribes to access much needed funding to improve broadband access through grants and low-interest loans.

Inslee described SBO will be an information clearinghouse for local, state and federal programs. He noted the office 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.

“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.”

In his address, Inslee highlighted a progressive broadband action that has seen a revitalization of Harrington.

In 2012, the small eastern Washington town 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 Public Development Authority then asked the library to become a private Internet Service Provider to the rest of downtown.

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. 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.

The governor’s budget also includes separate capital funding to establish a competitive grant and loan program to be administered by the Public Works Board. The board will distribute funds to applicants for the acquisition, installation and construction of infrastructure to deliver broadband services to underserved communities, according to the governor’s budget highlights released in December.

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