By Brandon Block, Crosscut News Service
Washington state will receive $1.2 billion — about $300 million more than previously projected — as part of a federal government program that aims to bring broadband internet to every household in the country.
The funding, announced by President Biden June 26, represents the most ambitious federal effort yet to bridge the digital divide in rural communities. The money comes from the 2021 infrastructure spending bill.
Mark Vasconi, head of the Washington state Broadband Office, said challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s long-criticized maps of national internet service helped identify some 71,000 additional unserved households across Washington, a more than 40 percent increase over previous estimates.
Vasconi said the crowdsourced map revision process likely contributed to the state’s netting significantly more money than previously projected, since the program favored states with spottier access. Officials had expected to receive about $900 million for the state prior to today’s announcement of $1.2 billion.
“It’s a dramatic improvement,” Vasconi said of the mapping process outcome.
States now have six months to submit initial proposals to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to unlock the first 20% of the funds.
Vasconi said the subsequent planning process will be more “prescriptive” than previous efforts, with tighter rules about how administrators evaluate which projects to fund and more explicit rules regarding tribal consultation and workforce development.
“We’ve been wanting to see this kind of funding support for as long as broadband service has been available,” Vasconi said. “It’s finally here, and a lot of work is going to proceed in order to effectively use the funding so that broadband service is a reality for all households in the country.”
Crosscut is a service of Cascade Public Media, a nonprofit, public media organization. Visit crosscut.com/membership to support independent journalism.