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Still "Buffering" for Broadband in Rural Washington

More than half of rural America still doesn't have broadband Internet access. The FCC has put up money for providers to ramp up their expansion plans, including in rural Washington. Credit: Chris Thomas
More than half of rural America still doesn't have broadband Internet access. The FCC has put up money for providers to ramp up their expansion plans, including in rural Washington. Credit: Chris Thomas
September 21, 2015

SEATTLE - About 23,000 homes and businesses in Washington are on the list to receive a broadband Internet connection, some for the first time.

The Federal Communications Commission's Connect America Fund started three years ago, for broadband service expansions that could take up to six years to complete.

According to FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield, the goal is to get higher-speed Internet service to sparsely-populated areas, by adding some financial incentive for providers to install or upgrade the technology.

"Rural areas tend to be more expensive to serve because there's fewer people, the terrain may be challenging," explains Wigfield. "So, the costs tend to be high and some of them may have some service, but it may be very slow that just doesn't meet modern needs; and others just may not have it at all."

In Washington, the carriers working on the expansion are Fairpoint Communications and Frontier Communications. Between the two companies, they're eligible to receive about $10 million in Connect America funding, but they have to meet installation deadlines in order to access the money.

The number of rural Washington customers to be served is relatively small compared to other states. But nationwide, Wigfield says nearly half of rural residents still are without access to modern broadband. He says better connections can make a big difference for small towns.

"For any kind of business that's operating there, that gives them more access to other marketplaces and other sources of business, to suppliers," Wigfield says. "It's important for the local economy, as well."

Some cities and counties, tired of waiting, have expressed interest in setting up their own fiberoptic networks. But Wigfield says so far, that idea has been held up by groups lobbying on behalf of the large communications providers.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA