Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I’ve introduced several bills this session that are gaining traction. This week, I participated in public hearings in the House Public Safety Committee, House Technology and Economic Development Committee, and the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Here are some of the highlights.
Championing broadband for rural Washington | House Bill 2664
Last session, I introduced House Bill 1702 to bring broadband infrastructure to rural Washington. I knew there was a dire need for this legislation but a firestorm was set when rural community after community came forward to tell stories of how their towns and farms struggled to get access to high-speed internet and dependable telecommunications services.
Steve McFadden, Ritzville’s economic development specialist, provided riveting testimony about the effects inadequate broadband service had on their 911-dispatch center. Service had to be routed through Othello, and calls were answered on the personal cell phone of a dispatcher, standing on the Ritzville Courthouse steps, because the internet went down. For 12-hours, Ritzville law enforcement improvised until service was repaired and restored. We rarely think of how important access to fiber optics has become until critical services are disrupted. The crisis in Ritzville illustrates the need in rural Washington to build redundant fiber capacity.
In August, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and I hosted a broadband roundtable organized by the telecommunications industry. Other attendees included representatives from major firms including Verizon, AT&T, and Microsoft along with regional providers including Pioneer Telephone, Pocket I-Net, and St. John Telephone, and key community leaders from ports and economic development agencies. I was pleased that Jack Peasley and Cody Bye, of Pomeroy, also joined in the discussion. It was interesting to learn that nearly every company at the table said they were maxed out on the capacities of their networks. When the kids get home from school, the internet and cellphones bog down the networks. More fiber capacity is needed as the networks try to push increasing high data load demands.
In September, I attended Wireless University, in coordination with World Mobile Congress, in San Francisco, California. The tradeshow had all the new, hot gadgets. I had the opportunity to try out the new iPhone X before Apple released it. The telecom industry sponsored lawmakers from across the county to discuss policy regarding broadband deployment. Rural lawmakers challenged the industry to consider rural America in deployment efforts. The response continues to be tepid, as the companies continue to struggle to make the business case for rural broadband to the last mile.
Later in November, Sen. Mark Schoesler, Rep. Joe Schmick and I toured the new broadband fiber network installed by Pioneer Telephone Company in Lacrosse. The system was funded with a cost share grant from the federal government. Dallas Filan, general manager of Pioneer Telephone, showed us the remarkable speeds at his home several miles from town. It is evident that without substantial subsidies, telephone companies struggle to justify building to rural communities. With help, Endicott will be on optical fiber by this spring. Rep. Schmick’s home will also be served in Colfax.
In December, I flew to Washington, DC, where I met with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (pictured right), just prior to the reversal of the Obama regulation on the internet, commonly known as “net neutrality.” Beyond all the media concern, I am glad Chairman Pai stood strong and removed this onerous Obama-era executive order. Since the beginning, the internet has functioned fine without the federal government stepping in. It has been a place of freedom and opportunity in a world where the federal government had a say in everything else. We don’t need the government picking winners and losers in our internet marketplace of ideas and innovation.
I learned that Chairman Pai’s hometown is a three-hour drive south of Salina, Kansas. Salina has little cellphone reception and no access to high-speed broadband fiber. He really understands the frustration we are experiencing. More importantly, he also understands that helping the telecom industry build profitability by rolling back net neutrality rules will actually help those companies expand into underserved rural areas across America. He is also committed to changing some of the federal programs that finance broadband infrastructure so more companies can qualify for funding, which also should be good for our communities in eastern Washington.
This year, I introduced a new bill, House Bill 2664. Sen. Lisa Wellman, of Mercer Island, has the companion bill, Senate Bill 6426. The Senate bill was heard first. Even with impressive testimony, there is still hesitancy toward our idea. My bill was heard this week in the House Technology and Economic Development Committee. Joe Poire, executive director of the Port of Whitman (pictured to the left), travelled the distance to Olympia to testify in support of my bill. Joe has been the cutting-edge innovator, constructing the area’s open access network providing the backbone for St. John Telephone and Pioneer Telephone Company out of Lacrosse. Also testifying in support was Nelson Holmberg, vice president of innovation for the Port Ridgefield, Sarah Young, director of planning and facilities at the Port of Skagit, Michael Hogan, public affairs administrator at the Port of Bellingham, and William Bridges of CenturyLink.
My bill extends the authority to all ports in Washington state for the construction of broadband fiber. Rural definitions in the law have prevented the with service areas that cover both a city and rural areas from building fiber networks. Fixing the language may help ports extend fiber to homes where the telecoms have had difficulty financing the projects. It is a great use of public-private partnerships, without having to use state tax dollars.
Keeping our children and communities safe | House Bill 2487
District constituents, businesses, and groups bring ideas forward that often times become the foundation of the legislation we write. House Bill 2487 is one of those ideas brought to me by Garfield County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Newberg… To read the complete story, click here.
Helping local landowners and farmers | House Bill 2916
Thank you for visiting!
I want to take the time to thank those people, groups, and businesses that travel from across the state to come and visit me in Olympia! You not only bring great ideas, suggestions and questions about how we can make the 9th District a better place, and how best I can serve as your voice in Olympia, you bring a flavor of home with you. It helps remind me of why I do the heavy lifting on your behalf!
- Washington Fire Chiefs
- Franklin County Fire Department #3
- Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS)
- Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC)
- Washington State University
- Downtown Spokane Partnership
- Tri-Cities Legislative Council and Leadership Group (pictured above)
- Julie Wickersman, para-educator in the Clarkston School District
- Aaron Fletcher, high school principal with the Liberty School District
- Cameron Grow, principal of Lincoln Middle School (Pullman)
- The Log Church Christian School
Stay in touch with me!
As this fascinating session unfolds, I welcome your comments and enjoy hearing from you. Please feel free to email, call, or better yet, come see the action in person here in Olympia.
It is my honor to serve as your state representative.