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Municipal broadband in Washington will soon offer options beyond Comcast

A pair of bills passed in Washington during the last legislative session is giving the state’s rural communities the ability to offer municipal broadband to residents.

City study: Low-income areas five times as likely to lack internet access

Prior to the passage of those bills, Washington was one of just a handful of states that expressly forbade local governments from providing so-called “direct to customer broadband.” Given that recent studies have shown that low-income and rural communities are far less likely to have stable high-speed internet connections, allowing those areas to treat broadband more like a public utility is a relief for many.

“That’s always been a problem in Washington state for those local utilities that said, ‘hey, we can provide this cheaper and better than Comcast or CenturyLink can,'” Geekwire reporter Mike Lewis told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “They would have liked to, and it just took this legislation to actually move ahead.”

One example Lewis cited was in the Mount Baker School District, where “you’ll find an enormous number of people who not only don’t have broadband access, they have lousy cellular access.”

“Those sort of things are the type of situations that the private industry just seemed disinclined to solve because they couldn’t turn a profit on it,” he described. “That’s where government can come in and help.”

In Kitsap County, we’re already seeing local officials develop solutions to problems like that. And thanks to the two bills passed by the state Legislature, many of the barriers that previously stood in the way of enacting those solutions have been cleared.

Group fighting for Seattle broadband to become a public utility

That has the general manager of Kitsap County’s utility district, Bob Hunter, pushing to build the proper infrastructure to allow both private and public interests to coexist.

“What he is doing out there is saying, ‘let us put in all the pipes, let us put in the lines, and we will let you folks (have) open access — internet service providers come in, you folks can buy some bandwidth on our lines, you can sell to the customers, and they can choose among you,'” Lewis said.

The catch for service providers is that they still have to meet the county’s standards for quality of service and bandwidth.

“That means also these companies, if they are not meeting their terms, Kitsap can boot them right out,” he pointed out.

For more on Lewis’s recent report for Geekwire on Kitsap County’s efforts to expand municipal broadband, you can head here.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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