The coronavirus pandemic, its related stay-at-home orders, and its economic and social impacts have illustrated how important robust broadband service is to everything from home-based work to education. Yet, even now, many communities across America have been unable to meet their residents’ telecommunication needs. This is because of two problems: disparities in access to services that exacerbate race and class inequality—the digital divide—and the overwhelming lack of competition in service providers. At the heart of both problems is the current inability of public entities to provide their own broadband services.

This is why EFF joined a coalition of private-sector companies and organizations to support H.B. 1336, authored by Washington State Representative Drew Hansen. This bill would remove restrictions in current Washington law preventing public entities from building and providing broadband services. In removing these restrictions, Hansen’s bill would allow public entities to create and implement broadband policy based on the needs of the people they serve, and provide services unconstrained and not beholden to big, unreliable ISPs

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Washington: Demand Reliable Internet for Everyone

There are already two examples of community-provided telecommunications services showing what removing these constraints could do. Chattanooga, Tennessee has been operating a profitable municipal broadband network for 10 years and, in response to the pandemic, had the capacity to provide 18,000 school children with free 100/100mbps so they could continue to learn. In Utah, 11 cities joined together to build an open-access fiber network that not only brought competitively priced high-speed fiber to its residents but also provided them with over a dozen choices as provided by small businesses. This multi-city partnership has been so successful that they added two new cities into the network in 2020.

The pandemic made it abundantly clear that communication services and capabilities are the platform, driver, and enabler of all that matters in communities. It is also abundantly clear that  monopolistic ISPs failed to meet the needs of communities. H.B. 1136 would correct that failure by allowing public entities to address the concerns and needs of the people they serve. If you are a Washington resident, please urge your lawmakers to support this bill. Broadband access is vitally important now and beyond the pandemic. This bill would not only loosen the hold of monopolistic ISPs, but also give everyone a chance at faster service to participate meaningfully in an increasingly digital world. 




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