Tag: "washington"

Posted April 12, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Though voting was highly conflicted and debates lasted late into Sunday night, H.B. 1336, an act granting public entities unrestricted authority to provide telecommunications and Internet services to end-users, scraped through the Washington State Senate by a vote of 27-22 on April 11. 

If State Governor Jay Islee signs H.B. 1336, Washington will have removed its barriers to municipal networks, leaving just 17 states with deliberate barriers to local Internet choice. “We’re fired up around here,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-23, in an interview. “What a huge deal this is. It undoes 20 years of bad state policies which restricted local governments from offering broadband.”

Washington’s charter counties, first-class cities, and cities operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code already have the power to construct telecommunications networks and offer Internet access services to their residents without third-party business overseeing network management operations.

Hansen’s bill would give this authority to the public entities currently restricted by statute from offering retail services. This includes Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and district ports, as well as, towns, second-class cities (defined as those with populations of 1500 or more which have not adopted a city charter) and counties currently not operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code. 

Hansen said this about the development:

BREAKING: Wash. Senate just passed my Public Broadband Act (HB1336). Thanks to the parents, teachers, students, public utility districts, tribes, activists, 1000+ people signing in support (!) and more. WE did this; amazing team effort. Public Broadband Now!!!

Washington broadband activists are rallying behind H.B. 1336, as the bill is sure to introduce innovative, community-based Internet access solutions across a state whose rural inhabitants largely have one cable provider...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

This week’s community broadband state legislative roundup revisits and provides updates on important bills moving through the state legislatures in Washington, Oklahoma, and California.  

The State Scene 

Washington 

We’ve been closely covering S.B. 5383 and H.B. 1336, two bills in Washington state that would give Public Utilities Districts (PUDs) and port districts the authority to offer retail telecommunications services.

Our initial coverage pointed out shortcomings in S.B. 5383. The bill originally contained a preemption clause that gave private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to reject PUDs’ and ports’ project proposals in areas where incumbent ISPs claim they plan to expand service within six months. 

Since our last reporting on this piece of legislation, the bill was amended by the State House Community and Economic Development Committee, removing the veto authority initially given to existing ISPs. However, a new provision favoring incumbent cable ISPs was also added, which would prohibit a PUD or port from providing retail Internet services in an area where an existing provider offers service at a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. The minimum speed requirements of this provision would be increased to stay consistent with Washington’s state definition of broadband.

The Committee also amended the bill to allow PUDs and ports to provide retail services in served areas, but only when building to reach an unserved region. 

H.B. 1336, which aims to allow PUDs, ports, cities, towns, and counties to provide Internet access services on a retail basis, was amended by Washington’s Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on March 25 to increase the requirements that must be met by counties, cities, and towns before they...

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Posted March 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

A California ballot initiative would empower voters to build their own Internet access solutions.

The Oklahoma House sends seven broadband bills to Senate.

New York and North Carolina initiate statewide digital inclusion programs.

Virginia is second state to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. 

See the bottom of this post for some broadband-related job openings. 

The State Scene 

California Legislation Could Lead To Massive Investments in Public Broadband

As lawmakers in the Golden State look to rectify a reputation of having one of the highest student populations without Internet connectivity, bills aiming to expand access to 98 percent of California households by increasing investments in public broadband infrastructure were launched early in California’s legislative session.

Though there are several other bills pertaining to broadband that have been introduced in Sacramento, we focus on these four because, if passed, they would have the biggest impact on municipal networks.

S.B. 4, sponsored by State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-33, would create a new state-backed bond program, enabling local governments to finance more than $1 billion in public infrastructure projects through bond issuances. The low-interest debt for the projects could be repaid over multiple decades. 

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently reported, “California’s current law (known as the California Advanced Services Fund or CASF) has failed to meet the digital divide challenge. It discriminates against local community bidders to build broadband infrastructure, favors spending state money on slow...

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Posted March 15, 2021 by Jericho Casper

This is the first in an ongoing series of state legislative roundups of bills that advance the prospects of success for community broadband networks. Feel free to reach out to Jericho Casper with tips or corrections.

High-Speed Hirings - Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It

Investments in broadband infrastructure at the municipal level are on the rise, creating more employment opportunities in the broadband industry. Advocates for municipal broadband who feel called to make a change in their communities should check out these job openings:

Dayton, TX

Applications are being accepted for a Broadband Manager/Head Network Engineer to oversee the business and technical operations of DayNet — a new Internet utility emerging in Dayton, Texas — in the process of constructing a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Whatcom County, Washington

Applications are being accepted for two positions currently open at Whatcom County PUD: Broadband Services Analyst and Electric Utility Analyst.

The State Scene

From coast to coast, state lawmakers are aiming to create centralized broadband clearinghouses and improve permitting processes. Here’s a snapshot: 

New Mexico Legislature Seeks Reforms to Craft State Broadband Plan

With merely five days remaining in the state's legislative session, New Mexico legislators are pushing to advance bills that would set up a centralized body within the state government tasked with improving Internet access.

One of the first bills introduced during the 2021 legislative session, Senate Bill 93, the Broadband Access and Expansion Act, passed the state Senate last Wednesday, by a vote of 33-6, calling for the creation of a new Office of Broadband Access and Expansion. Padilla believed passing through the Senate...

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Posted March 10, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Though Washington is home to one of the nation’s fastest growing tech hubs, many communities throughout the state lack adequate broadband infrastructure. The stark divide between those Washingtonians with reliable home broadband connections, and those without, became especially relevant last year, when many were forced to rely on their home Internet access for work, school, health, socialization, and much more. 

A year into the pandemic, it seems lawmakers in Olympia are finally waking up to the connectivity issues currently plaguing the state. In January, bills aiming to advance broadband connectivity by allowing public entities to participate in the retail broadband market were presented in the House and Senate of the Washington State Legislature. The two bills have both cleared their respective chambers, and are waiting to be heard in committees of the opposite legislative chamber.

Discussions surrounding the two bills will continue on March 11th, when Washington’s Senate Energy Committee is set to hold a hearing for House Bill 1336, one of two bills being considered (the other is Senate Bill 5383).

Both bills aim to grant public entities, such as Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and ports, the authority to operate as Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Currently PUDs and ports can build broadband networks but must offer wholesale access to private ISPs, and are prohibited from offering direct retail services to residents and businesses. The bills being considered now would allow them to deliver Internet access to Washington residents without a charter or third-party business overseeing network management operations.

While the bills are similar, they possess important differences. At the heart of the dispute between the two proposed laws is a preemption clause included in Senate Bill 5383, sponsored by State Sen. Lisa Wellman. 

Wellman's bill gives incredible veto power to private, incumbent ISPs. SB 5383 would change existing state laws to allow PUDs and ports to offer broadband service directly to residents only if they do not “receive notice from the governor's statewide broadband office that an existing...

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Posted March 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Idaho is better known for producing potatoes than the state of Washington. But actually, it’s the 2,800 square miles (an area about twice the size of Rhode Island) within Grant County in central Washington that grows more spuds per acre than any county in the United States.

As you might expect, the Grant County Public Utility District (PUD) has a long history of supporting the region’s potato farmers. But for the past 20 years, the county-owned utility has been planting more than potatoes in the fertile soil of the Evergreen State, the benefits of which are being enjoyed by county residents on and off the farm.

Building a Fiber Foundation

In early 2000, Grant County PUD built an open access fiber optic network, allowing multiple local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to compete in delivering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to the county’s 97,700 residents. After investing $182 million to bring high-performance Internet connectivity to 75% of the county, over the past several years the utility has been working to expand the network to cover the remaining 25% into the most rural parts of the Grant County PUD service area.

Using utility revenues to finance the network expansion, County Commissioners did not initially commit to a specific timeline, opting instead to allocate funding annually based on the financial condition of the fiber business and the utility as a whole. But with revenues on the rise (up 11% in 2017), the PUD pushed forward, allocating $18.4 million in 2019 to advance the project. Local officials have estimated the total cost to expand the network into all unserved areas to be $70.2 million, with a completion goal of 2023. When the project is complete, over 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable will have been installed...

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Posted January 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In our year-end roundup and prediction show on the Community Broadband Bits podcast last month, the more optimistic members of the team predicted that 2021 would see some states remove barriers to municipal broadband. 

It looks like in a few places momentum might be headed in that direction. Last week we wrote about a bill in Arkansas that would remove almost all barriers in the state, allowing political subdivisions and consolidated utility districts to pursue projects on their own and without external grants. 

New legislation in Washington looks similarly promising. On Thursday, January 21st, House Bill 1336 was introduced [pdf], removing specific barriers which currently prevent Public Utility Districts (PUDs) from delivering broadband service on a retail basis. Currently, PUDs are only able to offer unrestricted broadband on a wholesale basis through a dark fiber or open access network. Under certain conditions PUDs can offer retail service, but only if an existing Internet Service Provider (ISP) leasing that PUD infrastructure ceases operations, and even then, they are only allowed to do so as long as no other private ISP steps up to offer retail service. In the interim, PUDs can provide service for a maximum of five months and must, within thirty days, begin the process of finding a replacement.

The new law removes that barrier, and not only allows PUDs to construct and operate retail broadband networks inside their existing territory, but outside as well. In addition, it establishes that PUDs can work with federally recognized tribes to construct infrastructure. 

Bipartisan Approach

The co-sponsors of the bill have staked out different rationales for removing the restrictions, with Drew Hansen calling for broadband to operate as a public utility and Alex Ybarra more concerned with the unconnected pockets of Washingtonians left by the private ISPs. Bill co-sponsor Alex Ybarra told the Washington State Wire:

We knew prior to...

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Posted November 19, 2020 by Matthew Marcus

After years of struggling to obtain reliable Internet connectivity, The Hoh Tribe in western Washington has entered a beta trial with SpaceX’s StarLink satellite Internet service, drastically improving the community's Internet access speed and capacity. 

Russ Elliot, Director of the newly formed State Broadband Office, had been working closely with Melvinjohn Ashue, the former Vice-Chairmen of the Hoh Tribe. Russ has a background running an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and is skilled at networking with technology companies to tap into resources and opportunities to help connect reservations, rural communities, and others. 

Notably, Washington state emergency responders had also begun using StarLink in areas decimated by wildfires and since, StarLink has had a positive working relationship with people within the Washington state government. When Starlink’s beta began, Russ caught wind and introduced Starlink’s people to the Hoh tribe, and they shared their ongoing difficulties. Starlink was eager to help and excited that the Hoh tribe reservation was well positioned in relation to the satellites Starlink had in orbit at the time. 

A Plug and Play Broadband Solution

The setup was relatively fast, taking about a month in all, and logistically not complicated. Starlink held virtual meetings with the Hoh tribe council explaining the technology, setup, and service. The company also sent representatives to the Hoh reservation to test out the product on site, and after the tribe council discussed the service with community members 18 of 23 homes signed up and the satellite receiver kits were sent out shortly after. 

Melvinjohn explained that “out of box to connectivity was about 5 minutes.” In the first week he tested speeds between 58 and 65 Mbps at each household, and more recently speeds had increased to about 179 Mbps. The Hoh Tribe’s council agreed to a three-year contract with an initial beta period, but the pricing for this agreement has not been disclosed. The tribe is paying for this...

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Posted October 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Less than seven months has passed since the city of Anacortes, Washington (pop. 17,000) connected the very first subscriber in a pilot project for its municipal network. In the interim, thousands of households have signed up, construction continues at full-steam, and local officials are looking forward to years of providing fast, affordable, reliable service to those living on Fidalgo Island.  

Five Years in the Making

We’ve been following Anacortes since 2015, when the city first began discussing the issue, watching as as local leaders and stakeholders assessed community needs, the state of broadband in the area, and options available to them, and much has changed. Read through our previous coverage if you’re interested in how things unfolded, but by the early part of 2019 the city had decided to pass on the other options and build, maintain, and operate the network themselves

Access-Anacortes, the municipal network borne out of that decision, is approaching the end of a two-year pilot project which by all metrics has been successful. In an interview, Emily Schuh (Administrative Services Director) and Jim Lemberg (Municipal Broadband Business Manager) shared what they’ve learned and how things are going. Throughout 2019 and 2020, construction has passed just over 1,000 premises and achieved a 39.6% take rate, surpassing the 35% bar they set early on, in three pilot areas which sit on the north side and down the middle of town. The city owns, maintains, and operates the network, with the library serving as the center of operations. Access-Anacortes consists almost entirely of new construction, though it does use some of the city’s internal backbone fiber — which itself is only a handful of years old — as well.

The green, yellow, and orange...

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Posted October 13, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Seattle, Washington sits at the technology epicenter of the Pacific Northwest, and its residents have historically enjoyed better wireline Internet access options than many Americans across the country. A new report, Seattle Internet for All [pdf], provides a wealth of analysis which identifies those remaining in the city who struggle to get online. And while it outlines a detailed set of steps the city can do to reach the 5% or so of residents who report not having any subscription, most of them remain small, with no bold strategies offered to solve the connectivity gap once and for all.

The report comes as a result of the Internet for All Resolution passed by the city council in July in order to address digital divide amplified by the ongoing pandemic. While the city has been successful in increasing Internet access over the last five years, there are important income- and race-based gaps that still need to be fixed. Currently, the report says, 17,575 households with 37,365 residents sit on the other side of the adoption gap, and it concludes that the majority of the disparity is driven by affordability and a lack of digital skills.

Summary of Findings

The report argues that Seattle remains one of the most connected cities in the country, with 93% of the city having access to gigabit broadband from one or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs); according to the FCC Form 477 data (which itself overstates competition) that number sits at 75%, but in either case it's worth noting that for Comcast and Wave subscribers this will be asymmetric gigabit with far slower upload speeds. 

The report finds that 88% of households currently pay for wireline subscriptions, while 4-7% use cellular or free options to get online. But 5% report not having any Internet access at all, and these residents are concentrated around particular areas: South Central Seattle (Pioneer Square, Yesler Terrace, and International District), South Seattle (New Holly, Rainier Valley, and Beacon Hill), West Seattle (High Point...

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