In a Medium post outlining his hopes for broadband expansion, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said he was interested in creating a state broadband office that would be tasked with expanding service throughout Washington. He also outlined the details during his State of the State Address.
If it moves forward, the SBO will be an information clearinghouse for local, state and federal programs. It will set high-level policy, develop and implement a statewide plan, and incentivize the deployment of quality and affordable service. The SBO will fall under the aegis of the Commerce Department.
The Governor’s expansion proposal comes alongside an item in his budget for funding for a competitive grant and loan program to be administered by the Public Works Board. The funding will be awarded for the acquisition, installation, and construction of infrastructure that supports broadband services. In the post, Inslee said that he was also interested in looking at emergent high-speed access technologies like airband communications and low-orbit satellites.
Low-orbit satellites are growing in popularity as a possible solution for transmitting broadband access to low-population and geographically challenging areas where it is less economic to install fiber networks. These satellites operate closer to the earth and can interact with the 37.5-42.0 GHz, and 47.2-50.2 GHz frequency bands. Companies like HughesNet were early to this space but there are others. The FCC approved an application from Elon Musk’s SpaceX to begin deploying a constellation of low-orbit satellites to provide broadband service in November.
During the last legislative session, policymakers passed a rural broadband expansion bill along with a separate $10 million allocation to maintain and expand some existing rural networks. However, the Governor acknowledged more needs to be done to close the digital divide in Washington.
In his latest proposal, Inslee says it will take an initial investment of $25 million to establish the SBO and start expanding the network to new service areas. The $25 million investment is in addition to the grant funding administered by the Public Works Board.