Senate approves Honeyford bill to provide rural communities with greater access to broadband

In a year when a pandemic has forced more workers to telecommute, more children to attend school remotely, and more patients to turn to telemedicine, the Senate on Friday overwhelmingly approved a measure sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford to help provide more broadband access to low-income, rural and other underserved areas of the state. The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 48-1.

“There has never been a time when access to broadband is more critical,” said Honeyford, R-Sunnyside. “As we heard in committee and have seen during this pandemic, there are significant difficulties delivering education to our young people and the reliable access to high quality, fast internet needed by many of our seniors to better use telemedicine.

“This bill will allow the Statewide Broadband Office to be more competitive in accessing federal funds to increase broadband where it is needed most.”

Under Substitute Senate Bill 5357, a competitive-grant program called the Broadband Investment Acceleration Program would be created by the Statewide Broadband Office. Grants made through the program would match funds required to participate in federal broadband-infrastructure programs, with priority given to projects that serve distressed and rural areas.

“This is fundamentally an equity issue,” Honeyford explained. “Children in poor and rural areas have the same right to access school and library services as children in urban areas. Small businesses in rural communities need to be able to engage in e-commerce – especially during a shutdown of in-person businesses – just as much as those large companies located in big cities. Sick and elderly patients and those dealing with the depression and anxiety of isolation during a pandemic need to be able to access telemedicine and online counseling, no matter where in the state they may live.

“This bill will help address these equity issues and help bring our distressed and rural communities the resources they so desperately need.”

SSB 5357, which received the support of the Washington Independent Telecommunications Association, Washington Library Association, Broadband Communications Association of Washington, and several school districts and public utility districts, now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.