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Report: Private Telcos Thwart WA Public Utilities’ Plans For Rural Broadband

Among the many people who could stand to benefit from the $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity Access Deployment (BEAD) funding currently being awarded to states by the Biden Administration, are a number of residents in rural Washington State, who say cable giants have been so far unwilling or unable to build out reliable, affordable high-speed internet service offerings for them.

A new article published this week by local outlets The Columbian and Crosscut zeroes in on several of these residents in particular, describing their struggles to get service. 

One mother near Elma, a town of 3,400, lives just 75 feet from a connection box, but the report says a Comcast technician estimated the cost to connect her at $1,000-$2,000, which she doesn’t have — forcing her teenage daughter to rely on an unreliable portable hotspot from school and leaving her frustrated and behind on her coursework. 

Broadband.Money’s broadband audit of Elma, Washington, shows that the majority of broadband serviceable locations in the town — some 83.4%, are either unserved (34.3%) or underserved (49.1%), with only 16.6% reliably served. 

The article’s author traveled with another resident to the parking lot of an elementary school, the only place where he was able to get reliable wireless internet service provided by a local public utility to send work emails from inside his parked vehicle. 

“To be honest, I started debating, maybe we’re going to have to move…or I’m going to have to get an apartment in town or something,” the resident told the reporter. 

Washington State does have a number of  Public Utility Districts (PUDs) dating back to the 1930s and established by communities to provide them with the new technology at that time: electricity. 

Today, the PUDs still exist and are applying for broadband and other government funding, but at least eight projects have had their applications rejected after objections from Comcast and Rural Wireless LLC, another existing telecom company.

Even those PUDs that have won funding may not be able to use it to build in the state in areas that existing ISPs claim they already provide service, but which residents complain it is nonexistent or spotty. The viable solution seems to require the state government to alter existing regulations that allow ISPs to block new broadband projects by PUDs.

Read the full article on the Colombian here.

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