Getty Images

Getty Images

Editorial: Too few have internet access; that’s set to change

Federal and state infrastructure funding will improve access to a utility as basic as electricity.

By The Herald Editorial Board

During the past two years of pandemic life, we’ve had to make do with work-arounds and new strategies to complete our routine tasks, and many of those — work, school, grocery and other shopping, entertainment, even doctor appointments — required a decent internet connection.

For most of us, that’s a nearly invisible connection; something we don’t give much thought to, until the bill comes due or service is interrupted. For others, that connection is minimal to nonexistent.

And when it’s not available, yet another work-around has been necessary: our public libraries.

Sno-Isle Libraries, even before the pandemic, has long seen its share of students and adults turning to the system’s network of 23 community libraries to use computers and other resources. But it was also a hub for something as basic as internet service itself during the pandemic, says Sno-Isle’s executive director Lois Langer Thompson.

Sno-Isle, along with loaning out laptops and WiFi hot spots to provide internet connections at home and work, also became a default internet service provider — either indoors during library hours or in its parking lots after hours — to allow residents to connect to the internet.

“You hear these stories,” Langer Thompson said last week. “We had one gentleman bring in his desktop computer because he didn’t have internet at home,” and needed a connection to run his home-based business.

In a pinch, that’s a service Langer Thompson says she’s glad Sno-Isle can provide, especially during the pandemic.

“We’ve done a lot with laptops and hot spots. And we’re good at providing the services that are needed,” she said. “But we really can’t be the underpinning of internet service.”

The reality, however, is that — even as comparable as broadband internet service is to a basic utility, such as electricity or water — too many residents in Snohomish County, Washington state and the rest of the country are either underserved or unable to get or afford an internet connection in their homes.

Connecting the unserved and underserved was the focus of a recent roundtable discussion hosted by Sno-Isle at its Monroe library and attended by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Langer Thompson and local parents, students, teachers and others from the county’s more rural areas, including Darrington, where internet service is lacking.

The roundtable didn’t reveal any surprises, DelBene said in an interview last week; much of the lack of equitable internet access has been known for years, but the pandemic has removed all doubt regarding the necessity of those connections and what needs to follow in coming years.

“Here we are; I represent one of the biggest tech hubs in my district, yet less than an hour away there are spots that don’t have broadband or cell service,” DelBene said.

Some counties and states have been working on the issues for some time. Snohomish County assembled a Broadband Action Team last year to bring together public officials, cities, school districts, state agencies, and others to address service deficiencies and encouraged people to participate in the state Department of Commerce effort to better map internet availability throughout the state.

To date, nearly 44,000 have participated in the statewide survey that determined the download and upload speeds of each participant’s address. That survey found that nearly 6 percent of state residents have no internet service at home, while nearly 41 percent had service that offered download speeds of zero to less than 10 megabits per second. The Federal Communications Commission considers 25 mbps to be the minimum standard for download speeds.

The mapping survey found that 6.7 percent of Snohomish County residents had no broadband internet service, while 35 percent reported speeds of zero to 10 mbps.

That mapping survey, which continues, will be crucial as grant funding is distributed, including a total of $65 billion that was made part of the bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment Act that Congress passed in November.

The infrastructure package established a range of direct funding and grant programs to states, tribes and others that will help fund hard infrastructure but also assistance programs to make internet service more affordable.

Washington state, like all other states will see a baseline of at least $100 million from the infrastructure package, DelBene said, with more funding to follow once the FCC has completed its own broadband mapping update.

That additional money will be needed.

The Washington State Public Works Board last month announced $44.6 million in grants for 15 broadband constructions projects in unserved and underserved communities in the state. For that pool of money, 29 different projects totaling $90 million in requests applied for funding, exceeding the available funds by 109 percent, the Washington State Wire reported. Another $13 million in state-funded broadband constructions loans are scheduled for this spring.

Additionally, the Washington State Broadband Office announced $7.4 million in grants for “digital navigator services” to assist new internet user obtain and afford connections; funding went to the Community Health Network of Washington’s community health centers to assist lower-income patients; the Equity in Education Coalition, Goodwill and the Seattle Housing Authority.

Federal and state investments are coming, but like rural electrification in the 1930s, “that expanded access will take some time,” DelBene said, as grants and other funding programs are administered. Yet, necessary investments that will extend broadband internet service to more Americans are set.

“This is basic to everything we do,” DelBene said. “How we communicate, work, telehealth access and more.”

And it’s basic not only to our daily lives, but our livelihoods and our children’s futures.

The roadblocks to access faced by rural communities, and by individuals in suburban and urban areas can begin to come down and make broadband service as simple and reliable as flipping a light switch.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school's football field. After losing his coaching job for refusing to stop kneeling in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football games, Kennedy will take his arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 25, 2022, saying the Bremerton School District violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to let him continue praying at midfield after games. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Editorial: Court majority weakens church, state separation

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision does more to hurt religious liberty than protect a coach’s prayer.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Thursday, June 30

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

A pregnant protester is pictured with a message on her shirt in support of abortion rights during a march, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Seattle. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to end constitutional protections for abortion has cleared the way for states to impose bans and restrictions on abortion — and will set off a series of legal battles. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Editorial: Court’s decision a subtraction from our rights

Using a cherry-picked history, it limits the rights of women and will extend the reach of poverty.

A Capitol Police Officer rests his hand near his gun as he works by the anti-scaling fencing outside the Supreme Court, Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Editorial: Tough path for gun legislation becomes less clear

U.S. Supreme Court decision on gun laws clouds hopes for reasonable and effective safety measures.

FILES - Cars line up at a Shell gas station June 17, 2022, in Miami. President Joe Biden on June 22 will call on Congress to suspend the federal gasoline and diesel taxes for three months. It's a move meant to ease financial pressures at the pump that also reveals the political toxicity of high gas prices in an election year. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)
Editorial: Gas tax holiday could end up costing us even more

President Biden’s request to suspend gas taxes offers little benefit and considerable risk.

Supreme Court weakens wall between church, state

The Supreme Court definitely got it wrong with regards to the Bremerton… Continue reading

Snohomish tax break for developers shifts burden

City of Snohomish Planning Director Glen Pickus in his Oct. 2, 2018… Continue reading

Comment: Patriot Front arrests in Idaho a reminder of threat

The West has past experience with right-wing extremists. A van full of white men looking to riot should surprise no one.

Comment: The weight of Jan. 6 chairman’s optimistic melancholy

Rep. Bernie Thompson’s measured demeanor set a factual tone for Tuesday’s unsettling testimony.

Most Read