Kilmer, colleague present legislation to bridge broadband access gap

PORT ANGELES — U.S. Rep Derek Kilmer has introduced a bill that would help expand broadband access to rural areas such as the West End of Clallam County, the Democratic congressman announced.

Along with Republican colleague Elise Stefanik of New York, Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, introduced Thursday the Broadband Access for All Act. The bill would provide a refundable tax credit of up to 75 percent for groups of individuals or businesses that form a broadband district and build a local network.

The idea is to bridge the “last-mile” gap between rural homes and businesses and the existing broadband service network, according to a statement from Kilmer’s office.

“Too many rural communities are being left behind in our economy because America’s internet infrastructure doesn’t reach them,” Kilmer said.

“Connecting communities to high-speed internet will create more economic opportunities for more people in more places.”

Kilmer added: “It will lead to new jobs and businesses, empower students by placing new information at their fingertips and help rural communities get in on the economic growth we’re seeing that’s been largely concentrated in America’s cities.”

Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional district, which covers the North Olympic Peninsula, touted the legislation in a July 6 roundtable with community leaders in Port Angeles.

After that meeting, Kilmer told the Peninsula Daily News that the bipartisan legislation would “provide a tool that could contribute to solving that last-mile problem.”

While 97 percent of urban dwellers in the U.S. have access to broadband internet, fewer than two thirds of those living in rural areas have broadband, according to Kilmer’s office.

Broadband is classified as an internet connection with a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second. That’s the minimum speed recommended for high definition-quality streaming on Netflix, Kilmer’s office said.

Seventy-nine percent of Clallam County’s population have broadband, while 81 percent of those in Jefferson County have a high-speed connection, according to a Thursday news release.

“Your zip code shouldn’t limit your access to government, educational opportunities, business resources or entertainment,” said Rod Fleck, Forks city attorney and planner.

“High speed broadband creates a more equal playing field. If Congress passes the Broadband For All Act it will help communities like Forks make the business case for providers to expand to our region, and help grow options for us.”

Fleck, a long-time champion of broadband access on the West End, has worked with tribes that have had to save large files for grant applications on thumb drives and send the drives to other communities to be uploaded to the internet for submission.

Students in the Cape Flattery School District have been bused from Neah Bay to other communities to take state-mandated exams online, Kilmer said in a July 6 interview.

“At the Neah Bay Small Business Fair, we had lots of budding businesses, lenders and government leaders,” said Julie Knott, interim executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Corps.

“But without internet access we couldn’t run demonstrations from company websites, connect in real time on Linkedin or quickly follow up by trading emails.”

Knott added: “It’s a huge disadvantage.”

Earlier this month, Kilmer predicted that the broadband bill would garner bipartisan support because the challenges of rural broadband access “aren’t unique to red districts or blue districts.”

“They’re affecting everybody,” Kilmer said.

Said Stefanik, the bill’s co-sponsor: “Increasing access to broadband in our district is critical to ensuring our businesses can compete, our economy can grow and our children have access to the best educational resources.”

“I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan bill with Rep. Kilmer to ensure rural communities like ours can compete in a 21st century economy,” Stefanik said.

By:  Rob Ollikainen
Source: Peninsula Daily News