State Senate considers Broadband survey

In the first week of the 2007 Washington State Legislative season, Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles and seven colleagues introduced a bill to survey residential broadband deployment across the state. Mike Weisman reports that the bill came up during the Northwest regional caucus at the Memphis media reform conference, and that folks there made some constructive suggestions to strengthen the bill:

1. There should be outside expert and citizen input to design of the survey, and to the goals of the survey.

2. Survey results to be transparent and public.

3. Raw Data should be available after the survey to the public, academics, etc.

4. There should be discussion of what are the goals of the survey, and what happens to the results.

Reclaim the Media will be tracking activity in the state legislature this spring. Telecom giants such as Verizon and AT&T, stinging from their failure to ram through a new pro-industry Telecom act in Congress last year, are continuing efforts to legislate their market preferences in various state legislatures.

In the past year, the corporate telecom state legislature agenda has included dodging local accountability and support for community TV, avoiding requirements to provide full service to low-income or rural communities, and even outlawing municipally-owned broadband! Nothing like that is currently on the table in Washington State, but like I said, we're keeping an eye out. Here's the text of SB5120:

SENATE BILL 5120

Requiring a survey of the deployment of broadband technologies among households in the state to encourage cost-effectiveness and identify factors preventing widespread availability.

State of Washington 60th Legislature 2007 Regular Session

By Senators Kohl-Welles, Poulsen, Rockefeller, Schoesler, Brown, Delvin, Hatfield and Kilmer

Read first time 01/11/2007. Referred to Committee on Water, Energy & Telecommunications.

AN ACT Relating to requiring a survey on the deployment of broadband technologies among households in the state; adding a new section to chapter 42.56 RCW; creating new sections; and making an appropriation.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. The legislature finds that broadband technologies, which enable the high-speed transmission of electronic information, play a fundamental role in the state's economy, are essential for electronic commerce and telecommuting, and are critical for 21st century learning and medicine. However, broadband technologies are not evenly dispersed and utilized among the state's citizens. Rural, inner-city, and low-income households may be unable to reap the benefits of broadband access. In order to develop a strategy for encouraging the cost-effective deployment of broadband technologies in the state, the legislature intends to identify factors preventing the widespread availability and use of broadband technologies.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 2. The department of community, trade, and economic development shall commission a survey on the deployment of broadband technologies among households in the state. The survey shall be conducted by an appropriate entity having expertise in the access and utilization of modern information technologies among underserved populations.

The survey shall collect and interpret statistically reliable geographic, demographic, and telecommunications technology information to identify any broadband deployment disparities in the state. The survey shall also produce a statistically reliable profile of the following:
(1) Households and businesses in the state with no available broadband options;
(2) Households and businesses in the state with access to broadband options, but who choose not to purchase an option; and
(3) Purposes for which broadband is used by households and businesses in the state.

The survey is due by December 31, 2007, and shall be presented to the appropriate committees of the legislature having jurisdiction over telecommunications issues. The study may be presented in an electronic form.

The following definitions apply to this act unless the context clearly requires otherwise:
"Broadband" means any transmission technology capable of speeds in excess of two hundred kilobits per second in at least one direction.
"Geographic information" includes postal zip code groupings representative of the diverse populations of the state.
"Demographic information" includes age, income, and education level.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 3. A new section is added to chapter 42.56 RCW to read as follows:

The names and identification data of any person, household, or business participating in a survey under this act are exempt from disclosure under this chapter.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 4. The sum of one hundred sixty-five thousand dollars, or as much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, from the general fund to the department of community, trade, and economic development for the purpose of commissioning a survey on the deployment of broadband technologies among households in the state in accordance with the provisions of this act.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey