Governor's Statewide Broadband Office. Within the Department of Commerce (Commerce), the Governor's Statewide Broadband Office (SBO) was established in 2019 with the purpose to encourage and develop affordable, quality broadband within the state in order to promote innovation, serve the growing needs of Washington's systems, and improve broadband accessibility for unserved communities.
The state's statutory broadband speed goals are the following:
Washington Digital Equity Forum. In a 2021 operating budget proviso, funds were provided for the SBO to cofacilitate the Washington Digital Equity Forum (Forum) with the state Office of Equity. The purpose of the Forum is to develop recommendations to advance digital connectivity in the state. When developing its recommendations, the forum must:
Forum membership is specified, including legislative members. Each member of the Forum must serve without compensation, but may be reimbursed for travel expenses authorized under current law. The SBO must provide staff support for the Forum and submit recommendations to the Legislature.
Community Technology Opportunity Program. The Community Technology Opportunity Program (CTOP), administered by Commerce, provided organizational and capacity building support to community technology programs throughout the state, and identified and facilitated the availability of other public and private sources of funds to enhance the purposes of the program and the work of community technology programs. A portion of the CTOP funds were distributed through a competitive grant program. The grants were used for specified purposes including for training and skill-building opportunities. Among other grant application requirements, applicants were required to provide evidence of matching funds equivalent to at least 25 percent of the grant amount. The account used to fund the CTOP was repealed in 2019.
Federal E-Rate Program. The Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate Program makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. Eligible schools and libraries may receive discounts on telecommunications, telecommunications services, and Internet access, as well as internal connections, managed internal broadband services and basic maintenance of internal connections.
Washington Broadband Assistance Program. The Washington Broadband Assistance Program (WBAP) is established within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to assist low-income persons with the costs of eligible voice and broadband services.
Subject to appropriations, a telecommunications provider (provider) offering eligible voice and broadband service to the public must provide those services to low-income persons in accordance with the WABP. Providers must:
DSHS must notify providers when annual appropriations have been obligated, verify the eligibility of low-income persons to participate, and, subject to appropriations, reimburse each provider the balance of the price charged. DSHS may adopt rules to implement the WABP but may not limit low-income households to receiving only one line. DSHS must consult with the Office of Equity regarding methods to administer the WABP and a plan for outreach, eligibility determination assistance, and enrollment navigation assistance.
The Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) must annually adopt by rule those services, including prepaid services, that are eligible for inclusion in the WABP. Providers determine rates for eligible services. The UTC must, by rule, determine the amount of reimbursement to providers and adopt guidelines to ensure reduction of barriers to enrollment. When determining the amount of assistance to be provided, the UTC must consider specified criteria.
Anchor Institution Digital Equity Program. The Anchor Institution Digital Equity Program (AIDEP) is established. The SBO must develop, implement, and administer the AIDEP for the purpose of providing discounted rates of telecommunications services and discounted telecommunications infrastructure costs to qualifying anchor institutions. The SBO must coordinate with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Library, and DSHS in developing and implementing the AIDEP.
Eligible applicants for discounted rates under the AIDEP include, but are not limited to, all customers eligible to receive discounts for telecommunications services under the E-Rate Program.
The discounted rate must be:
The SBO may adopt rules to implement the AIDEP and provide partial or full discount of telecommunications infrastructure costs to eligible entities that apply for the discount. The SBO must develop a process to prioritize applications for funding based on the extent to which the application meets the state policy objective of bridging the digital divide and, for broadband service discounts, the extent to which the service provided to the applicant is consistent with the state's statutory broadband speed goals.
Statewide Broadband Office. In addition to current statutory powers and duties, the SBO must coordinate with public housing agencies to develop strategies and plans promoting deployment of broadband infrastructure and greater broadband access, while protecting proprietary information.
The SBO must coordinate an outreach effort to hard-to-reach communities and low-income communities across the state to provide information about broadband programs available to consumers of these communities. Outreach effort requirements are specified such as providing information to applicable communities about the WABP. The outreach effort must be reviewed by the state Office of Equity annually.
Digital Equity Opportunity Program. The CTOP is renamed the Digital Equity Opportunity Program (DEOP) and its purpose is redefined to advance broadband adoption and digital equity and inclusion throughout the state. The DEOP must provide organizational and capacity building support to digital equity programs and additional support for specified purposes.
The established competitive grant program is modified to provide grants to community technology programs to advance digital equity and digital inclusion by providing specified services and support. The requirement for grant applicants to provide evidence of matching funds equivalent to at least 25 percent of the grant amount is removed.
The Forum must review grant applications and provide input regarding the prioritization of applications in awarding grants among eligible applicants. When awarding grants, the following must be considered:
Digital Equity Planning Grant Program. Subject to appropriations, Commerce must establish a Digital Equity Planning Grant Program to provide grants to local governments, institutions of higher education, workforce development councils, or other entities to fund the development of digital equity plan for a discrete geographic region of the state. Prioritization criteria are specified. The Forum must review grant applications and provide input on prioritization. Commerce must develop criteria for inclusion in the digital equity plans and may adopt rules.
Washington Digital Equity Forum. The Forum is codified in Washington law. A provision is added specifying funds appropriated to the Forum may be used to compensate, for any work done in connection with the Forum, additional persons who have lived experience navigating barriers to digital connectivity and digital equity. In addition to the SBO, the Office of Equity must provide staff support for the Forum.
Digital Equity Account. The Digital Equity Account is created in the State Treasury. Moneys in the account may be spent of after appropriation. Funds from sources outside the state, from private contributions, federal or other sources may be directed to the specific purposes of the DEOP, WBAP, AIDEP, or the Digital Equity Planning Grant Program. The Legislature may appropriate the moneys in the account for specified purposes.
Miscellaneous. Specified designees from DSHS, the UTC, Commerce, and the SBO may take any actions necessary to ensure this act is implemented by the effective date. A severability and a null and void clause are included.
Reverted to bill as originally referred to committee.
The committee recommended a different version of the bill than what was heard. PRO: Reliable access to broadband related services, devices, and training is an issue in rural, suburban, and urban areas of our state. The digital divide is a divide that we can bridge—Washington should be a leader on this issue. The programs rectify ongoing problems that were magnified by the pandemic. All communities need and deserve access to broadband speeds to participate in society.
CON: The WABP should be removed. We are unable to implement the bill by the specified effective date. We support the striking amendment that addresses our concern with conflicts with federal regulations.
OTHER: We support the striking amendment that addresses conflicts with federal regulations; however, we still have concerns about preemption. We are not prepared to implement the AIDEP. Federal funds will be available later this year and we need the flexibility and time to design a plan in alignment with those fund requirements.