WA State Legislature considers a bunch of broadband bills

The State Legislature is considering a klatch of bills dealing with broadband Internet – more specifically, with strategies for increasing deployment and adoption in rural and underserved areas across the state. First up are several bills introduced by Rep. Zack Hudgins…

    • HB 1698 would create a Broadband Adoption and Deployment Authority with responsibility to assess the state's broadband needs, including a list of specific measures: mapping existing and planned deployment and adoption programs, monitoring prices and service quality, creating and administering digital inclusion programs for rural, low-income and other underserved populations, and providing low-cost connectivity to nonprofits.

      The new authority would administer a new Digital Inclusion Account, with funds from hypothetical federal stimulus grants, plus voluntary contributions from telecoms, who would in return get tax credits (up to $200K per telco, capped at $500k overall). Funds would be regranted to digital inclusion programs and CTCs. Finally, the bill would create a Council on Digital Inclusion with reps from CTCs, telecoms, higher ed, k-12, and government agencies.

    • HB 1699 calls for the development of a high-speed internet deployment/adoption strategy for the state, including the idea of contracting with a third party to map broadband resources.
    • HB 1700 would assess high-speed broadband resources owned or leased by state and local government entities.
    • HB 1701 would allow the Department of Information Services to map broadband deployment and adoption, including web-based self-reporting.

    Most of the language in HB 1698 is replicated in SB 5916/HB2170, introduced in the Senate by Jeanne Kohl-Welles. This bill differs primarily in that it focuses more closely on Community Technology Opportunity work, and would extend the High-Speed Internet Work Group convened last year by another Kohl-Welles-sponsored bill.

    A second Kohl-Welles bill, SB 5917/HB 2171 calls for mapping of public and private broadband resources statewide.

    Of course, the first challenge with any legislation dealing with broadband deployment this year is, how to pay for it? The state budget is more than strapped, and any legislation with a price tag on it faces an incredible uphill climb this year. The above bills anticipate the availability of broadband-earmarked funds from the federal stimulus package, and thus involve a bit of a guessing game as to how those funds will be administered.

    An important aspect of the major Hudgins and Kohl-Welles bills is the emphasis on adoption as well as deployment, for a complete digital inclusion strategy. Bill language suggests that adoption covers a range of concerns including the availability of affordable computer equipment, technology skills , and technology literacy to be able to make use of broadband resources. (Missing from the bills is language about digital media literacy – the skills to produce and disseminate one's own digital media, and the skills needed to evaluate the cornucopia of info sources and resources available online, finding the most relevant and reliable information and using it for civic engagement.)

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