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Congressman Kilmer wants to build ‘fiberhoods’ across America

There are places in Washington, even in 2019, where rural broadband doesn’t exist – or even a solid phone connection.

That was evident when KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross attempted to call Congressman Derek Kilmer in rural Mason County. Eventually, the call got through.

“Unfortunately, there are large parts of rural Washington and rural America that don’t have access to high-speed internet,” Kilmer said. “That is, in the 21st Century, an enormous problem.”

“This gets beyond whether you can watch the season finale of Game of Thrones on your iPad,” he said. “This gets at – do you have economic opportunity? Do you have educational opportunity? Can you start a new business? If you are looking for a job, can you post your resume? If you’re a student, can you do research?”

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Kilmer represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District, which covers much of the Olympic Peninsula and Kitsap County. Despite being a few miles from the big cities in King County, with tech giants of Microsoft and Amazon among others, Kilmer’s district is in the bottom 20 percent of the country when it comes to access to high speed internet.

That’s why he was out in rural Mason County, where the connection was troublesome. He was looking into ways to fix the rural broadband gap. State officials are aware of the problem and its influence on the economy.

Governor Jay Inslee funded a new state broadband office in his last budget. The Washington State Department of Commerce recently invested $6 million in rural broadband, targeting for Clallam, Kitsap, Mason, Whatcom, and Yakima counties. Four projects benefiting from that investment are part of the state’s first Rural Broadband program.

On the national side, Kilmer recently introduced a bi-partisan bill — the Broadband for All Act. It’s focused on bridging the internet gap for communities like Kilmer’s district.

“They way we do it is using the tax code,” Kilmer explained. “It would create a tax credit of up to 75 cents on the dollar, whether a neighborhood tries to make an investment to complete that last mile (of connectivity), or a business park … it would provide a refundable tax credit. And it’s technology neutral so folks can pick the option that is best for them.”

“The key here is trying to get people attached to these technologies so they can get new jobs, start new businesses, and get information they need,” he said.

One example currently in the works that Kilmer notes is being done through PUD 3 in Mason County. The PUD is identifying neighborhoods — or even just a small cluster of homes — with little or no access. Then it is trying to find ways to finance an internet connection.

“They call them fiberhoods,” Kilmer said.

“I look at this like rural electrification from decades back,” he said. “Increasingly, access to the internet is just as important in today’s economy.”

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