Lisa Brown, Washington Department of Commerce director, and Tom Kealey, Idaho Department of Commerce director, spoke Friday about the economies in their respective states during an Inland Northwest Partners conference at Banyan’s on the Ridge in Pullman.
“I see broadband as really a significant challenge to get right,” Brown said.
Part of the challenge, she said, is Federal Communications Commission maps showing the number of broadband providers available and overall coverage provided in the region is not adequate.
“We’ve got to understand what we have and what we don’t have in order to appropriately direct investment into that middle mile and last mile,” she said. “That’s always the most challenging piece of deploying communications or telecommunications technology.”
Washington is trying to help rural areas with this problem by establishing a statewide broadband office that would coordinate grants to governments and tribes for broadband infrastructure.
Washington 9th District Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, told the Daily News in April that she and her colleagues in the House supported the legislation because it will increase competition in the internet service provider marketplace and bring better service to rural Washington.
In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little signed an executive order in May establishing the Idaho Broadband Task Force, Kealey said.
The 40-member task force this fall will bring to the governor recommendations on ways the state can improve connectivity and speeds across Idaho.
The task force will try to map existing services and gaps in broadband infrastructure, which Kealey said will paint a picture for what resources are needed in rural and urban areas.
“We want to map what we have, be able to measure what we have in terms of access as well as speeds and features and services and options,” he said.
Brown pitched another idea that may bring people and commerce to eastern Washington. In light of Microsoft and other corporations last year offering funding to build a high-speed railway from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Portland, Brown said she would like to see a similar railway that connects western Washington with eastern Washington.
“How fantastic that would be to connect our communities, to connect our students and families, and also as an opportunity for people to be able to leave the megalopolis and see what the options are in other parts of the state,” Brown said.
Brown and Kealey highlighted some positives in Washington and Idaho economies.
“If we were a country, we’d be up there with Sweden or Belgium right now,” he said.
Kealey said Idaho is near the top of the rankings in several economic categories including first in travel dollars, third in the number of people moving to the state and fourth in job growth.
This post originally appeared on the Lincoln County Economic Development website.
(Davenport, WA, January 18, 2019) — It was early 2016 when the Harrington PDA began to install a high speed broadband network through their downtown business district. Now three years later, that project has become a model for do-it-yourself rural internet. Last January the stakeholders in the project were invited to tell their story to the State Senate Committee for Economic Development and International Trade. This past October Harrington hosted a policy discussion with Governor Inslee’s advisor on rural broadband, John Flanagan. And Last week Harrington’s Mayor Justin Slack spoke at a press event in Olympia where the Governor announced his 2019 initiative to increase broadband access throughout the state.
Mayor Slack spoke about the PDA’s project, but he also spoke about he and his wife Heather making the decision to move from Seattle to Harrington to raise their children in a small town. The Slack’s purchased a building within the fiber network so that Justin would have the bandwidth he needed to telecommute to his job with a Seattle bank. Soon the “accidental business owners” opened The Post & Office wi-fi coffee shop in the front half of their building and a fiber-fed shared workspace in the back. The Post & Office has become the hub of the community thanks to good coffee and high-speed internet.
Commissioner Scott Hutsell also spoke at the press event in Olympia. The Commissioner is the Chair of the Public Works Board, an infrastructure planning and funding board within the Dept. of Commerce and spoke about the importance of broadband. Inslee’s proposal includes $25 million in grants and bonds for broadband infrastructure and he hopes to see the Public Works Board administer those funds. The Governor also proposes the state establish a Statewide Broadband Office to be the central broadband planning body. Washington had a broadband office from 2009 to 2014, funded by a five-year federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the same act that funded the NoaNet fiber project in 2012-2013. It is that NoaNet fiber that feeds Harrington’s network.