Broadband in Washington 2019


This document outlines and confirms Washington State's policies, goals, and investment priorities for broadband infrastructure beginning in 2019. It also assesses available information on broadband access, identifies the principal programs for broadband adoption, and provides highlights of community leadership from around the state.  Finally, it assembles data resources for communities engaged in broadband planning and provides a basis for the coordination role of the Governor's Statewide Broadband Office, newly re-established and administratively housed within the Department of Commerce.
Washington is home to urban technology hubs, rural agriculture-based communities and multiple outdoor recreational regions. The solutions that serve the urban core typically do not apply in  rural communities. So we have evolved an approach to broadband based on local leadership and state facilitation. 
Most infrastructure investment in the past five years has been by private providers or local governmental entities like ports, public utility districts and cities.  Broadband adoption and skill-building programs are also characterized by statewide coordination coupled with local action. 
In the years to come, Washington's newly-established broadband investment funds and rejuvenated statewide broadband office will change the quality and degree of state support, and will preserve our local leadership focus.  For the first time in several years the state has an announced broadband policy, measurable goals and significant investment resources with the expertise to manage them.
We encourage communities to draw on this plan and the information that goes with it to plan, build, measure and manage the broadband services they will need for the future of our great state. 


This report is intended to be a living document
  • Introduction
  • 2019 Legislative Session
  • State Broadband Policy
  • Role of the Governor’s Statewide Broadband Office (SBO)
  • State Definitions, Standards, and Broadband Goals
  • Role of the Public Works Board
  • State Investment Priorities
  • Organization and Structure at the State level
  • Governor's Statement - ReConnect
  • Access:  Infrastructure + Availability
    • What Providers have Built
    • What People Experience
  • Adoption: Digital Inclusion + Workforce Skills
    • Digital Skills at the State Library
    • Rural Technology though Washington State University
  • Community: Leadership and Context
    • Broadband by Extension
    • Community Specific Leadership
  • Data Resources
    • Previous Broadband Reports

2019 Legislative session

During the 2019 legislative session the State made significant progress on a statewide broadband policy. The Legislature passed, and Governor Inslee signed into law, 2SSB 5511, which amongst other priorities, establishes:
1.       The Governor’s Statewide Broadband Office (SBO);
2.       Definitions and standards for broadband;
3.       Washington’s broadband deployment goals; and
4.       A competitive broadband grant and loan program administered by the Public Works Board
The legislation also created some additional authority for Public Utility Districts and Port Districts, and extended the State Universal Communications Program an additional 5 years.
The State’s 2019/20 operating budget (ESHB 1109) supplies $528,000 for the operation of the Statewide Broadband Office and $4,000,000 for the State Universal Service Fund. The 2019/20 capital budget (SHB 1102) appropriates $21,550,000 for the competitive grant/loan program, and an additional $3,450,000 for CERB’s provisional broadband program created via proviso in the enacted 2017/18 budget.

State Broadband Policy

As established within 2SSB 5511 (2019), the broadband deployment goals of the State of Washington are as follows:
(1) Access to broadband is critical to full participation in society and the modern economy;
(2) Increasing broadband access to unserved areas of the state serves a fundamental governmental purpose and function and provides a public benefit to the citizens of Washington by enabling access to health care, education, and essential services, providing economic opportunities, and enhancing public health and safety;
(3) Achieving affordable and quality broadband access for all Washingtonians will require additional and sustained investment, research, local and community participation, and partnerships between private, public, and nonprofit entities;
(4) The federal communications commission has adopted a national broadband plan that includes recommendations directed to federal, state, and local governments, including recommendations to: (a) Design policies to ensure robust competition and maximize consumer welfare, innovation, and investment; (b) Ensure efficient allocation and management of assets that the government controls or influences to encourage network upgrades and competitive entry; (c) Reform current universal service mechanisms to support deployment in high-cost areas, ensuring that low-income Americans can afford broadband, and supporting efforts to boost adoption and utilization; and (d) Reform laws, policies, standards, and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in sectors that government influences significantly, such as public education, health care, and government operations;
(5) Extensive investments have been made by the telecommunications industry and the public sector, as well as policies and programs adopted to provide affordable broadband services throughout the state, that will provide a foundation to build a comprehensive statewide framework for additional actions needed to advance the state's broadband goals; and
(6) Providing additional funding mechanisms to increase broadband access in unserved areas is in the best interest of the state.
from SB 5511

Role of the Governor’s Statewide Broadband Office (SBO)

Principally, the SBO is tasked with encouraging, fostering, developing, and improving affordable, quality broadband within the state in order to:
1.       Drive job creation, promote innovation, improve economic vitality, and expand markets for Washington businesses;
2.       Serve the ongoing and growing needs of Washington's education systems, health care systems, public safety systems, industries and business, governmental operations, and citizens; and
3.       Improve broadband accessibility for unserved communities and populations.
The enacting legislation grants the SBO the power and duty to:
-          Serve as the central broadband planning body for the State;
-          Coordinate with local governments, tribes, public and private entities, nonprofits, and utilities to develop strategies and plans promoting deployment of broadband;
-          Review existing broadband initiatives, policies, and public and private investments;
-          Develop, recommend, and implement a statewide broadband plan;
-          Update the state's broadband goals and definitions for broadband service; and
-          Encourage public-private partnerships to increase deployment and adoption of broadband.
The SBO sets high-level statewide policy, acts as an information clearinghouse on state and federal broadband programs for local partners, and looks for creative funding models and partnerships to ensure that every community has access to broadband at speeds exceeding the state’s speed goals. The office is directed to assist local applicants to the state grant and loan program, as well as federal programs.
As the SBO develops plans or strategies for broadband deployment, the enabling legislation directs the office to consider partnerships that provide funding opportunities which coordinate public, private, state, and federal funds, and to consider barriers to the deployment, adoption, and utilization of broadband service, including affordability of service.

State Definitions, Standards, and Broadband Goals

As established within 2SSB 5511 (2019), the State of Washington defines “broadband” or “broadband services as “any service providing advanced telecommunications capability and internet access with transmission speeds that, at a minimum, provide twenty-five megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload.” Importantly, this definition matches the FCC’s current standard for broadband, and provides a ‘technology neutral’ approach to the allocation of state resources.
The legislation also defines "unserved” areas of Washington as those in which “households and businesses lack access to broadband service, as defined by the office, except that the state's definition for broadband service may not be actual speeds less than twenty-five megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload.” As technology advances, and as the state’s program begins to facilitate the deployment of infrastructure, the SBO should utilize its authority to adjust definitions and standards.
The legislation also establishes some aspirational statewide goals. They are as follows:
(1) By 2024, all Washington businesses and residences have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least twenty-five megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second;
(2) By 2026, all Washington communities have access to at least one gigabit per second symmetrical broadband service at anchor institutions like schools, hospitals, libraries, and government buildings; and
(3) By 2028, all Washington businesses and residences have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least one hundred fifty megabits per second and upload speeds of at least one hundred fifty megabits per second.

Role of the Public Works Board

The Public Works Board is the fiscal agent for Washington’s statewide broadband policy. In collaboration with the SBO, the Board is directed by the passage of 2SSB 5511 to establish a competitive grant and loan program to award funding in order to promote the expansion of access to broadband service in unserved areas of the state.
Allowable uses of the associated funding include the acquisition, installation, and construction of middle mile and last mile infrastructure, and strategic planning for deployment of broadband service. The program has wide eligibility, an ‘objection’ process for incumbent providers in order to preserve resources, and clear direction regarding funding priority.

State Investment Priorities

Washington has for several years committed substantial state resources to support broadband access and assessment, using a variety of program-specific investment priorities that evolve with the needs of our communities.  In evaluating applications and awarding funds, the state seeks to give priority to applications that:
(i) Provide assistance to public-private partnerships deploying broadband infrastructure from areas currently served with broadband service to areas currently lacking access to broadband services;
(ii) Demonstrate project readiness to proceed;
(iii) Construct infrastructure that is open access, meaning that during the useful life of the infrastructure, service providers may use network services and facilities at rates, terms, and conditions that are not discriminatory or preferential between providers, and employing accountable interconnection arrangements published and available publicly;
(iv) Are submitted by tribal governments whose reservations are in rural and remote areas where reliable and efficient broadband services are unavailable to many or most residents;
(v) Bring broadband service to tribal lands, particularly to rural and remote tribal lands or areas servicing rural and remote tribal entities;
(vi) Are submitted by tribal governments in rural and remote areas that have spent significant amounts of tribal funds to address the problem but cannot provide necessary broadband services without either additional state support, additional federal support, or both;
(vii) Serve economically distressed areas of the state as the term "distressed area" is defined in RCW 43.168.020;
(viii) Offer new or substantially upgraded broadband service to important community anchor institutions including, but not limited to, libraries, educational institutions, public safety facilities, and health care facilities;
(ix) Facilitate the use of telemedicine and electronic health records, especially in deliverance of behavioral health services and services to veterans;
(x) Provide technical support and train residents, businesses, and institutions in the community served by the project to utilize broadband service;
(xi) Include a component to actively promote the adoption of newly available broadband services in the community;
(xii) Provide evidence of strong support for the project from citizens, government, businesses, and community institutions
(xiii) Provide access to broadband service to a greater number of unserved households and businesses, including farms;
(xiv) Utilize equipment and technology demonstrating greater longevity of service;
(xv) Seek the lowest amount of state investment per new location served and leverage greater amounts of funding for the project from other private and public sources;
(xvi) Include evidence of a customer service plan;
(xvii) Consider leveraging existing broadband infrastructure and other unique solutions;
(xviii) Benefit public safety and fire preparedness;
from HB 1498

Governor's Statement- ReConnect

Applicants from Washington State -- click here to download a printable letter of support.

United States Department of Agriculture
Office of the Secretary Washington, D.C. 20250
Secretary Purdue,
Thank you for your letter of March 29th regarding the ReConnect program. I am happy to provide this letter for your reference and in support of applications from and for the State of Washington’s many communities.
In response to the program’s specific provisions, I can confirm that:
  • Washington State's broadband plan is up-to-date and published on the internet; please see
  • Procedures are in place within the Governor’s Office Of Regulatory Innovation and Assistance ( to expedite administrative activities if necessary, for completing rights-of-way and environmental permitting requirements for the project, in order to meet USDA's project build-out timelines.
To the extent feasible within USDA timelines and state resources, the State will endeavor to assist ReConnect applicants proposing projects in Washington with information indicating state broadband infrastructure investments within the past five years. Communities needing assistance with this information, can contact my office at


Jay Inslee, Governor

Access: Infrastructure + Availability

What Providers Have Built

Washington's broadband networks are designed, built, operated and expanded by an interconnected community of professionals across a diverse range of organizations, including major publicly-traded companies, countywide Public Utility Districts, local ports and small independent carriers.  Together they have brought high speed internet service to isolated farms and kept pace with a dramatic expansion of technology-based commerce in the state's metropolitan areas.
In the past few years resources to build these networks have come from private, federal and local resources. Starting in 2018 state programs renewed state investment in broadband infrastructure. 
FCC service availability map

FCC maps and data

The principal source for overall broadband deployment information today is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which publishes both open data and periodic assessments on broadband service availability.
FCC maps of Washington for 2017 indicate that 100% of the population have access to broadband service at or above 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) per second. The State recognizes that this does not match up with the lived experience of many Washingtonians, and that much discussion has centered around the inaccuracies in FCC data on availability of both broadband and mobile connectivity. A substantial number of Washingtonians experience speeds below the federal and state broadband standard of 25 Mbps download and 3Mbps upload.

Private Investment: $1.9B

Private investment in Washington's broadband networks has not been thoroughly tracked in recent years, but published capital expenditure data from several companies suggests that their aggregate investment was approximately $1.9 billion in 2017.

Federally Supported Service

The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) distributes federal support to broadband providers under a variety of federal program, and publishes data on where those programs have resulted in network improvements.  This map is derived from USAC published data for Washington state, and shows the substantial number of locations that have seen new broadband deployment in the last few years.

Federally Supported Projects

In addition to supporting broadband service within existing networks, the federal government (primarily through the US Department of Agriculture and Federal Communications Commission) provides grants and loans for new projects in rural areas.  This map based on federal spending data shows the approximate locations of federally-supported broadband network projects.
Federal spending on broadband projects by county 2017-18

State Supported Projects - CERB

To make broadband resources more accessible to rural underserved communities, the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) was authorized in 2018 to make rural broadband loans and grants available to local governments and federally recognized Indian tribes. Funds are utilized to finance the construction of infrastructure to provide high-speed, open-access broadband service, to rural and underserved communities, for the purpose of community and economic development.
For projects that are located in a rural community, as defined by the board, or a rural county; that encourages, fosters, develops, and improves broadband within the state in order to:  Drive job creation, promote innovation, and expand markets for local businesses; or Serve the ongoing and growing needs of local education systems, health care systems, public safety systems, industries and businesses, governmental operations, and citizens; and Improve accessibility for underserved communities and populations.
The State's 2019 enacted budget supplies CERB's broadband program with an additional $3.45 million in order to facilitate CERB's remaining "pipeline" projects while the Board transfers duties of its broadband program over to the Public Works Board as directed in 2SSB 5511 (2019) section 7(12).
The program funded the following infrastructure projects in 2017-18:
  • Mason County – $408,325 loan and $408,324 grant to Mason County PUD #3 for the Mason County Rural Broadband Fiber Expansion. This rural broadband program project consists of construction and extension of open-access ready-to-connect fiber networks to six unserved rural communities in Mason County. CERB funds were matched by $150,000 local resources.
  • Skagit County – $500,000 loan and $500,000 grant to the Port of Skagit County for the Skagit Community Fiber Optic Backbone. This rural broadband program project consists of construction of segment 6 of the county-wide fiber optic backbone, connecting the Town of Concrete to the backbone point in the Town of Hamilton. CERB funds were matched by $2.3 million in local resources.
  • Whitman County – $750,000 loan and $250,000 grant to the Port of Whitman County for the Last-Mile Fiber Construction project. This rural broadband program project consists of construction of aerial fiber on existing poles to five rural communities in Whitman County. CERB funds were matched by $2 million in local resources.

State Universal Communications Support

As required by the 2018 Supplemental Operating Budget, ESSB 6032, Section 141(5), the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) is conducting a long-term study on the universal service program and the need for future program funding in unserved and underserved areas of Washington. On December 31, 2018, the UTC submitted to the Legislature a report offering a framework for how the UTC will approach the study.
Over the five-year period authorized for the UCS Program, the commission approved approximately $18.2 million in funding to eligible telecommunications carriers in Washington. The commission authorized this funding according to rules adopted subsequent to the legislation but prior to the start of the program. Now, during the program’s fifth year, funding has adequately maintained small-carrier service prices in Washington’s rural areas at levels comparable to similar services in more urban areas of Washington and nationwide. The funding has also provided a necessary transitional lifeline to Washington’s smaller telephone companies, by enabling network investments that will help these carriers adapt to a changing telecommunications marketplace and modifications in federal support programs.
From 2013-2014 these companies averaged $10.2M in regulated capital expenditures (prior to receiving UCS funds in late 2014) per year. However, from 2015-2017, these companies averaged $21.2M per year in regulated capital expenditures. This is an increase of nearly 208% in regulated capital expenditures despite the fact that regulated telecommunications revenues declined by -6.3% from 2011-2017. These continued investments are supported by the UCS as well as from federal programs such as the FCC's Connect America Fund and other legacy support. The combination of these support programs allow companies to provide both voice and broadband services in the areas they serve.
The small telephone companies that have benefited from UCS Program support have a long history of providing telecommunications services to many high-cost, rural areas of Washington. The owners and employees of these companies are proud and active members of their communities. Their services provide essential telecommunications connectivity (narrowband voice and broadband) to communities whose livelihoods increasingly depend on a digital, interconnected world.
However, it has become increasingly apparent that the telecommunications needs of rural Washington, particularly with respect to access to broadband service, transcends the areas served by small telephone companies. As the nation’s attention shifts from legacy voice services to broadband services, policymakers must consider how best to provide financial support to telecommunications providers, especially where the impact can be achieved in a fiscally efficient manner. 
With the passage of 2SSB 5511 (2019), the UCS Program was extended for an additional five years.  Without this necessary extension the loss of funding support would have drastically affected small telephone companies and their customers. However, without full funding provided in the state's operating budget, companies and customers will still feel negative effects. The effect will depend on a company’s historical level of state and federal funding assistance, efforts to increase operational efficiencies, and the amount of lead time offered by the UCS Program’s five-year transition. Some companies may be better prepared for the impacts of reductions or elimination of state funding. 
As the UCS Program continues to provide state support for rural telecommunications services, the commission stands ready to offer suggestions and other information to policymakers that provide a variety of feasible and innovative solutions to the challenges of providing telecommunications and broadband service in Washington’s rural areas.
ILEC exchange boundaries

State investment

With the exception of CERB projects, the state of Washington's direct investments in broadband in the past five years have been confined to one-off projects using re-purposed funds, feasibility studies and services, as illustrated by this chart from the Department of Commerce.

Local public utilities

Many of Washington's communities have established local customer-owned Public Utility Districts (PUD's) that offer a variety of utility services, sometimes including wholesale broadband infrastructure.
As of 2017, 14 PUD's were offering telecommunications services, with an aggregate infrastructure investment of $509 million.
source: Washington PUD Association
Telecom PUD's

What People Experience

There are many reasons why a customer's or a community's broadband experience may not match the services reported by the FCC.  In recent years substantial feedback has been provided to government at all levels regarding discrepancies between the "up to" speeds offered and the apparent speed experienced by the customer.  There has also been substantial concern about inequality in access to advanced telecommunications infrastructure experienced by residents of tribal lands, rural areas, and economically distressed communities.
The state's Office of Privacy and Data Protection is collecting and analyzing available data regarding these disparities, as have a number of Washington's communities, and they have found the information resources below to be valuable.
Microsoft visualization of FCC broadband access data and Microsoft data on broadband use

Microsoft  Study of FCC data

Microsoft has studied the broadband access data published by the FCC, and compared it to data on internet use obtained by the company independently.
Microsoft's conclusions are especially significant for Ferry County, one of Washington's most rural areas.
This analysis shows that while FCC data indicate 100% of Ferry County residents have access to broadband, Microsoft data show only 2.2% are using broadband speeds to reach the internet.

Speed testing

One indicator of customer experience is the results from speed test applications, which measure the time required to upload and download sample files from the user's computer or mobile device. 
Several communities in Washington have begun monitoring the results available from M-Lab -- an open source internet measurement platform that provides data for consumers and communities to measure their Internet service on a global scale. All data collected by M-Lab is published in the public domain.
mLab speed test
line chart of speed tests in 3 WA communities

Communities in WA

Speed test results show variation among Washington's communities.  As an example, this chart shows that during 2018 the results from Colville (dark purple) were significantly lower than those in Seattle and Spokane, but since February 2019 Colville tests have shown dramatic speed increases.

Range of Results in WA

In the 12 months preceding the publication of this report, the fastest download speed reported in the mLab database for Washington was 2.6 Gigabits per second (Gbps), but this is likely an outlier rather than a common occurrence. The statewide average (mean) download speed increased from 55.7 to 58.3 Megabits per second (Mbps) and the median increased from 27.2 to 28.5 Mbps.
This means that 50% of the speed test results statewide in 2019 came in at or below 28.5 Mbps, and 25% came in at or below 9.9 Mbps.  Conversely, 50% of the results were above 28.5 Mbps, and 25% were above 69.6 Mbps.
It is possible or even probable that tests are disproportionately performed by people who experience lower broadband speeds, but the results of these tests demonstrate that a substantial number of Washingtonians experience speeds below the federal and state broadband standard of 25 Mbps download and 3Mbps upload.

mLab annual speeds in WA
mLab visualization

Peer States

mLab speed test data can also be used to compare Washington's experience to those of other states.  This chart indicates that in the past year Washington's speed tests (dark red) are about the same as the US average (purple). Washingtonians have a faster average experience than Idaho residents, but slower than Massachusetts. 

Population density

Washington is both an urban and a rural state.  Substantial portions of the state have fewer than six residents per square mile, as indicated on this map, where the low-density areas appear in orange.
Rural high-speed networks tend to earn less and cost more than equivalent networks in urban areas, and while federal and state funds provide support to help offset the disparity, reports of disparities persist.

map of Washington state showing low-population-density areas in gray and higher-density areas in pink

Population by the Numbers

Population: 7,169,967
Area:  66,452.7 mi2
Overall Density: 108 persons/mi
source: Internet-is-Infrastructure

Income and Poverty

Median Household Income: $66,174 ± 272
Household Poverty Rate: 11.60% ± 0.18%

Practical Scholarship on the Digital Divide

In the past few years study of the data associated with broadband adoption and digital divide issues has matured, and work such as the Purdue University Digital Divide Index offer policymakers and community leaders rich information resources to explore the specifics of their regions.
Digital Divide Index produced by Dr. Roberto Gallardo, Purdue University Center for Regional Development and Extension Community Development Program; September 2017.

Digital Divide Index map showing Washington and Idaho with table

Anchor Institutions Map

Per 2SSB 5511 (2019) section 5(2), by 2026 all Washington communities should have access to at least one gigabit per second symmetrical broadband service at anchor institutions like schools, hospitals, libraries, and government buildings.  The map at left shows the locations of anchor institutions in 2015, and will be updated to show progress toward the goal.

Small Towns and Tribal Communities Need Broadband

Like many states, Washington is experiencing migration away from small towns and tribal nations. As economic opportunities in rural areas disappear, residents leave for greener -- and often more urban -- pastures.  This is particularly prevalent in tribal communities.  Tribes struggle to maintain their cultural identity as members are drawn away from reservations in search of jobs, education, and healthcare.  The U.S. GAO reported in 2018 that 35 percent of Americans living on tribal lands lack access to broadband. 
The migration from rural or isolated communities to urban areas impacts all facets of metropolitan life, i.e., increased housing costs, traffic congestion, and demand on social services. 
National telecommuting statistics give us some insight into how Washington could benefit from opportunities that broadband access can provide.  According to a Global Workplace Analytics and flexjobs report, 2017 State of Telecommuting inthe U.S. Employee Workforce, the benefits of telecommuting include:
  • Employers can save over $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year. Across the existing work-at-home population, that potentially adds up to $44 billion in savings. If the telecommuting workforce expanded to include those who could and wanted to work from home, the potential employer savings could approach $690 million a year.
  • Existing telecommuters reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking over 600,000 cars off the road for a year. If the work-at-home workforce expanded to include those who could and wanted to telecommute half of the time, the GHG savings would equate to taking 10 million cars off the road.
  • Half-time telecommuters gain back 11 days a year—time they would have otherwise spent commuting.
  • Reduced traffic congestion and road wear and tear
  • Lower unemployment and under-employment, particularly among the disabled, military families, senior caregivers, and others with special flexibility needs
  • Increase productivity by reducing traffic delays
  • Slow the outbound migration of citizens in geographically isolated areas, vacation communities, and places that have suffered a collapse of core industries.
  • Reduce crime by increasing daytime presence of homeowners

Broadband Goes with Growth

A variety of studies over the past decade have identified links between broadband and economic growth, including the following influential works:

Broadband Benefits Business

Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks enable applications that a community can use for innovative economic development and commerce. According to a 2014 survey by RVA, LLC for the FTTH Council:
  • 55% of businesses and organizations said broadband is essential for remaining in current location; 
  • 38% of households said they would definitely/likely relocate if broadband was not available; 
  • 32% of households work from home or have a home- based business, with 14% planning to start in the coming year; 
  • Employed FTTH users say they work 1.3 extra days per month from home (on average); and
  • 13% of FTTH users have a home-based business with over $10,000 estimated incremental income from FTTH.

Regulatory Assistance Available

To expedite permitting and administrative activities related to broadband projects, Washington State utilizes a cabinet-level agency empowered to form and lead multi-agency project teams. The Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA) was created by an act of the state legislature in 2002 and maintains a staff of permitting experts who provide technical assistance to citizens, businesses and major projects that require interagency coordination.
The Office has worked to secure timely decisions on a host of complex infrastructure projects, including local, state and federal coordination necessary to rebuild the US Interstate 5 Skagit River Bridge after its collapse and to repair a crack in the federally-administered Wanapum Dam. The Office also co-led an effort with the Washington State Department of Commerce around broadband buildout opportunities provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The agency is currently staffed with four Regulatory Improvement Consultants who have broad expertise in environmental and land-use permitting and can be made available to support broadband projects.
Governor's Office of Regulatory Innovation & Assistance

Adoption: Digital Inclusion +  Workforce Skills

State Library and WSU Lead Statewide Digital Inclusion Efforts

Washington State's diverse communities need coordinated and innovative digital inclusion programs to accomplish and sustain the benefits of broadband.  Innovation in this area is often led locally, so the state's role is principally concerned with coordinating and connecting community resources.  Washington State University and the State Library have both led and supported programs that advance digital inclusion and skills, in cooperation with the Employment Security Department, Workforce Training Board and Department of Commerce.

Digital Skills at the State Library:

Workforce Connector sites:

The State Workforce Development librarian coordinates with libraries around the state to connect them to their local WorkSource area offices and start the process of certification of their branch libraries as Connector sites. This designation is achieved when libraries provide free Internet access and provide staff that can guide visitors to find their local Workforce resources. Oftentimes, these libraries are the best source of connectivity in small and rural communities.

Online technology training and certification:

Because libraries have a Workforce designation, the State Library is directing other online resources to these centers to make them full-service and focused on all areas of job readiness. Multiple statewide online learning platforms are available for technology skills training -- including Microsoft Office, network administration, coding, Adobe Photo Shop, Intuit Quickbooks and many other types of training. Certifications are provided via the State Library to all participating libraries so that users can learn new skills and demonstrate competency to prospective employers through their local libraries.  

Virtual Reality:

VR is a job skill, a career opportunity and a cutting edge technology that users should understand and experience to achieve digital literacy. In a partnership with Oculus, the State Library is making VR headsets available around the state to libraries and providing programming support and introducing cameras and Unity software training and certification, so that users can create their own content, via filming and creating online videos viewable in the Go headset and/or learning Unity programming. Increasingly VR is being used to tell stories of marginalized communities, to create experiences that let users have a visceral learning experience, and to address different learning styles for STEM learning in particular.

Open Data:

The State Library has funded a position dedicated to helping libraries understand the opportunities in making government-generated, free data, termed Open Data, easily available with effective platforms or portals. Libraries have training curriculum available to them as a result of a two-year Knight Foundation grant, to help train their librarians and they, in turn, their users, in how to find and utilize open data to answer important questions. Further, libraries are partnering with their local municipalities to advise, train, host or coordinate efforts across their communities to make this information broadly available. WA State Library is one of the first state libraries with a dedicated position focused on this new and important opportunity. In partnership with the state’s Office of Chief Information Officer, the Library is looking at how to offer a statewide platform for important government-produced open data.

Online databases:

Databases, like Proquest and Newsbank, are provided to all libraries in Washington state, offering news and business information at a fraction of the cost. The State Library negotiates consortial pricing and contributes to the cost, to keep these databases affordable. The State Library also provides management support and coordination—and some collection funding--to a statewide ebook platform that services 44 medium and small libraries with a broad collection of popular ebooks. In the coming years the library will be looking to a new solution that serves all libraries in the state with a single platform and some shared resources available to all libraries, regardless of size and preferred vendor.

Online, 24/7 Reference:

AskWA is a virtual reference service, available 24/7 and supported by most of the state’s community colleges and some of the largest public library systems. Librarians share the duty of covering online and chat inquiries so that users have a readily available librarian for midnight paper-writing and early hours research. The State Library coordinates the network of participating libraries and contributes half the costs of the product and manages the vendor relationship.

Virtual library staff training:

Online and in-person training opportunities are coordinated at the State Level. These include the Library’s First Tuesday program of online training presentations, plus other webinars, tailored for the State Library audience or identified as available resources and broadcast so that the library community can choose to participate. Online training is an effective way to provide cost-effective and timely training on issues of importance to all librarians.

Rural Technology through Washington State University Extension

MS National 4-H Tech Changemakers

In 2017, WSU Extension Grant County 4-H was selected to participate in the Changemakers program. The team in Quincy developed a broadband access and use survey and conducted digital skills training. Their work has been featured on Microsoft blogs, newspaper articles, during Governor Inslee’s rural broadband tour and last December several members of the team traveled to Washington DC and one presented during the Microsoft Airband Initiative update event.
Through the 4-H Tech Changemakers program, teens are at the forefront of creating change. They work with their communities to identify needs and create action plans for using digital skills to make a positive impact in their communities. These digital ambassadors will work with 4-H educators, broadband service providers, community members, civic leaders and Microsoft to help people thrive in a digital economy and benefit from high-speed connectivity.  
Building on the success in Quincy, WSU broadband leader Monica Babine was selected to participate in a team of Extension and 4-H colleagues across the county to develop and deliver training for expansion of Tech Changemakers from twelve communities in a half dozen states to over ninety additional communities in over a dozen states. Many of the lessons learned from our work in Quincy were incorporated into this training. This year the Grant County team is joined by four new Tech Changemakers teams from Ferry, Skagit, Spokane and Whatcom counties. Teams are currently finalizing their action plans which will focus on teens teaching digital skills in their communities.

Tech Expo - Rural network tech shows

In 2019 Ferry and Stevens counties are planning "Tech Expo" events -- The geeky, techie version of the home and garden show to learn about broadband and technology for your home or business.  Broadband providers serving the community can meet potential customers face-to-face, and residents can learn and experiment with the tools and services that real broadband speeds bring.

Pathways to Prosperity - Distributed Conferences

Washington State University Extension developed a unique hybrid conference delivery model that uses broadband technology to connect multiple sites simultaneously to provide an interactive webinar featuring a national expert followed by locally facilitated action. Using this model, since 2012, WSU Extension has offered nine Women in Agriculture conferences to “Empower women in agriculture to achieve goals and manage risk.” During the first two years Women in Agriculture was offered at 23-40 communities across Washington State and in 2015 it was expanded to include five states. The expansion resulted in an increase to 35-40 sites with average annual conference attendance at 500 participants.
Building on the success of the first Women in Agriculture Conference, WSU Extension partnered with federal, state and local organizations in 2013 to offer WSU Extension Rural Pathways to Prosperity (P2P) a statewide conference to increase the entrepreneurial ecosystem in small towns. The second P2P statewide conference in 2015 also focused on entrepreneurship.
WSU Extension has begun offering training on this Multiple Sites Conference Model. In March 2019, through a partnership of North Central and Northeastern Washington organizations the model was used to deliver the North Central Washington Opioid Response Conference, Pathways to Prevention. Almost 400 participants at 10 sites came together to address the opioids epidemic by taking action to increase awareness and prevention.
This national award winning offering provides training that, through broadband, helps communities have access to resources and assistance to work locally to improve the economy, increase workforce development options, tackle social issues or any other community or economic need and opportunity.

Community: Leadership + Context

In addition to access and adoption, progress on broadband requires local knowledge and leadership.  The state can support and coordinate, but it is local people, government and companies around a table with a common agenda that leads to breakthrough.  The following examples highlight the state's coordination commitment and local leadership.

Broadband by Extension - WSU

The leading model for many rural Washington communities organizing to enhance their broadband options and outcomes derives from many years of work by Washington State University Extension.  Though local names and objectives vary, the WSU "Broadband Action Team" model emphasizes partnership among local governments, providers and people, facilitated by University staff and data capabilities.
Local broadband action teams (BAT) help increase engagement, support and capacity. Teams can be as diverse as their communities with representation from leaders of organizations and interested residents. BAT is designed to fit the needs of the community. BATs meet regularly to discuss broadband challenges and opportunities which lead to local capacity building through increased broadband awareness, access and adoption. Active BATs assist in the identification of broadband gaps then work with providers and funders to target investments to the locations with the greatest need and highest demand. The local knowledge and engagement of BAT members can help reduce telecommunications overbuilds. In addition to work on infrastructure, some BATs offer training to improve digital skills and expand technology use.

Right of Way Coordination at WSDOT

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) recognizes that our state’s efforts to expand broadband networks and improve reliability will result in more and better choices in transportation and enable innovation in emerging areas such as cooperative automated transportation systems. Washington state laws that govern broadband accommodation within state highway property establish clear legislative direction for WSDOT to support broadband deployment where practicable. WSDOT also works closely with the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration to support national efforts for broadband deployment.
As the benefits of broadband expansion to the state’s transportation goals become more evident, WSDOT’s policies on how we accommodate broadband infrastructure within highway rights of way are evolving. WSDOT recently convened a multi-agency policy advisory group to ensure that our policies are compatible with overall state goals for broadband, as well as to identify opportunities with respect to WSDOT’s own broadband needs for transportation systems management and operations, and emergency operations.

OneNet / Firstnet / Tribal Collaboration

Washington State's work on the OneNet program has resulted in valuable collaboration among tribes, state and local agencies to understand and promote Firstnet broadband service for first responders.
Improving the deployment of wireless broadband data in rural and tribal areas is often is challenging and costly due to Washington’s difficult terrain.   Rural and tribal communities report that there is little financial incentive for wireless providers to bring services to areas with low population densities.  In response, rural communities and tribes are working together and in partnership with commercial interests to find mutually beneficial solutions.  These public/private partnerships have strengthened relationships between tribal nations and local communities, identified coverage gaps, mapped infrastructure for potential commercial partnership, and identified a strategic approach coverage objectives. 
Today, one of the leading examples of tribal partnerships has developed through coordination for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). FirstNet was tasked to build a truly nationwide public safety broadband Network (NPSBN) and bring interoperable wireless broadband communication to emergency responders.
Data-dependent mobile applications can improve emergency response and coordination, safety, and security, but they are underused in rural and tribal areas because they depend on reliable network availability in challenging terrain.
Improvements to wireless broadband coverage won’t be realized overnight. However, active and ongoing public/private partnerships are evolving into a key state strategy for bringing services to rural and tribal areas of Washington.

K-20 Education Network

The K-20 Educational Network is a statewide large-scale and high-speed intranet and is also the conduit for Internet services for education institutions across Washington State. The State Legislature created the K-20 Network in 1996 for several purposes: to use technology to educate, to teach students how to use technology, and to connect Washington’s educational institutions. The network includes a 100 gigabit dense wave division multiplexing backbone and over 400 Ethernet tail circuits providing from 100 megabits two 2 gigabits of broadband to higher education, community college and K-12 institutions statewide.
The K-20 Network operates on a voluntary and cooperative model. Unlike many government shared-services models, the almost 500 public and private education institutions that are connect to the K-20 Network are not required to participate (and must pay to do so) and can seek alternatives at their discretion. The K-20 Network does not prioritize or enforce how the network is used; that responsibility is up to the local education institutions. 

Community-specific leadership

Several Washington state communities have produced their own broadband reports, drawing on local expertise to assess needs and opportunities and to report what's really experienced by residents.

Pierce County Access Evaluation

This 2019 evaluation requested by the County Council found that generally, the urban and suburban centers of Pierce County seem to have satisfactory broadband. Some of the smaller cities also have access to reasonable broadband within city limits from local providers. However, many community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents with broadband said they need more bandwidth and reliability, as well as lower costs.
Pierce County Broadband Report cover
NODC logo and announcement

North Olympic Symposium

In March 2019, the North Olympic Peninsula Resource Conservation & Development Council (NODC) worked with several partners to convene a two-day North Olympic Peninsula Broadband Symposium attended by 120 people to educate local stakeholders about the barriers to affordable broadband access in the region, existing assets, and models that are working elsewhere. The second day of the symposium focused on formation of Broadband Action Teams to continue work on the issue. BATs were formed for Jefferson County as a whole, Port Angeles, Sequim, and the West End of Clallam and Jefferson Counties, with the NODC providing continued support.

Stevens County Broadband Plan '17

Simply put, broadband -- or the lack thereof -- affects everything. Economic development and jobs, education needs like homework and online state testing, telemedicine as well as the data needs of hospitals, public safety, etc. Stevens County lags way behind in the digital divide. Every pain point -- education, economic development, healthcare, public safety, quality of life -- is affected.  We seem to have all the strikes against us: Low population density -- more than 85% of the county meets the census definition of rural. Low income. A good indicator is the number of students eligible for Free or Reduced School Lunches. The statewide average is 44%. Stevens County School districts show numbers from Ketle Falls (44%), Colville at 50.7%, Chewelah at 60%, Mary Walker at 62.5%, Northport at 69%, Wellpinit at 70.4%, Columbia (Hunters) at 71.6%, Evergreen at 73.1%, SummitValley at 73.8%, and Onion Creek at 90.5%. [Source: OSPI report card]
Lincoln County Broadband Plan

Lincoln County Broadband Plan '17

Lincoln County WA is a rural county with less than 5 people per square mile. Team reps for Small Cities, Agriculture, the County, and the EDC all responded with concern for areas with limited or no access to the internet. One of the big pain points for Lincoln County is the population-based business model used by most providers. It limits choices and leaves customers in the unincorporated areas (50%) of the county with dial up, satellite, and sometimes cell service as their only options. Some outlying areas that do have fiber are over-allocated, leaving customers choked out. This does not only affect residences. It affects farmers trying to use new technology on their tractors; home-based businesses; telecommuters and online learning. The ability to telecommute or utilize online learning are two opportunities that are valuable solutions for remote rural areas. Lincoln County lost a sizeable, well established construction company located in an unincorporated area due to poor internet and others are also considering moving.

White Center Report 2017

King County applied the Community Connectivity Initiative framework used by Stevens and Lincoln County to a single community - White Center.
Participants studied national and local data, as well as the experience of local community service organizations, and observed: "A truly equitable community means that people have what they need to succeed. The youth and families we work with in many cases do not have the technological tools to navigate school, work, and the world. As an organization, we are tasked with ensuring they have access to computers and internet when they come to our sites. If we cannot provide those basics, we are doing them a disservice, and we are not able to do our work as well as we should be."

Seattle Tech Access Study 2018

Seattle households are significantly more connected than five years ago, but there are significant differences in access rates across demographic groups, according to the 2018 Technology Access Study.
Ninety-five percent (95%) of Seattle households have a way to access the internet in their home through wired or wireless services. This is a significant increase in internet access compared to 2013, when only 85% of Seattle residents reported a way to access the internet.
The 2018 research shows that nearly all (98%) of Seattle households have at least one type of internet capable device in the home. The average household has 3.4 types of internet capable devices in the home (e.g. laptop, desktop, smartphone, internet capable gaming console, tablet, or voice activated device).
Some significant differences in access to the internet and devices continues for certain populations.

Two Rivers Fire Camp Study

Among the challenges facing personnel who fight wildfires in remote locations a lack of communication and data infrastructure can make the task much more difficult and less safe. During previous wildfire seasons these challenges became especially acute in Stevens County Washington where challenging terrain and low population density has not attracted wide spread commercial broadband internet or cellular service deployment.

Stevens County Broadband Survey

In early 2019 the Stevens County Broadband Action Team conducted a region-specific survey with support from Washington State University Extension.  The survey was designed to determine what Internet services are available in the community, home internet  availability, how it is used, and the barriers to obtaining adequate service. 
The survey concluded that lack of available service is the leading barrier to internet at home.

Broadband Community Assessment Tool

Communities around Washington use this open source tool to facilitate broadband planning.  It was designed and built by a volunteer team of civic developers, students and off-duty government employees under the aegis of DemocracyLab.

Data Resources

This section assembles data resources about broadband in Washington State from a variety of sources for planners, advocates and researchers. Many of the resources listed are interactive or available for download so you can do your own analysis, focus on your community or check assumptions.  If you need more information or have some to contribute, you can contact the Office of Privacy and Data Protection.

National broadband data from FCC

This map shows carrier-reported fixed broadband service in Washington state.  The Federal Communications Commission's principal data collection tool is Form 477, which reports technologies and speeds offered by providers in aggregate geographical areas across the country.  The data is open, and extensive mapping tools are provided by the agency.

Replicated for the NW

Federal broadband datasets for the country at large can be quite a challenge to download and wrangle if you live in an area with broadband challenges.  The State of Washington replicates national data for the Northwest on its own Open Data site so you can do your own analysis.

Where Washingtonians use the Internet

University of Washington students studied census data in 2017 to discover where and how Americans use the internet.  Their interactive visualization below offers a quick insight into internet use behavior by Washingtonians of varying age groups.

Seattle Tech Study Data 2018

City of Seattle's periodic Technology Access Study comes with rich data visualization options and downloadable datasets.

Federal Broadband Grants

Federal investment in broadband grants and loans in Washington state peaked under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) during the great recession, when networks like NoaNet and Pend Oreille PUD received substantial funds to build out broadband capacity in the state. 
But USDA programs like Community Connect have supported broadband deployments in Washington for a number of years.
Roll over the interactive dashboard at left to see details of federal awards over time, basd on data from

Universal Service support (CAF)

The federal government spends substantial funds to support broadband service in Washington, and requires accountability reporting from providers on what has been built.  Here's a visualization of USAC data on broadband service build-out under the Connect America Fund
Map of USAC supported locations

Consumer protection

Broadband remains among the most frequent topic of consumer complaints to the Attoryney General, along with Auto Sales and Telecommunications.

Previous Broadband Reports

from the Washington State Library
2011 Broadband Report
2012 Broadband Report
2013 Broadband Report