WA State Broadband Office wants your help mapping statewide internet access

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The pandemic is highlighting an issue that those in rural areas may have been dealing with long before COVID-19 – internet access.

The Washington State Broadband Office hopes to help increase knowledge of those areas and increase access through its new campaign. The office is asking everyone to complete a 1-minute survey that’s posted on its website.

“A lot of times people come to me and they say, ‘My broadband stinks,’” said Russ Elliott, director of the WA State Broadband Office. “Well, I can’t quantify ‘stinks,’ but I can quantify a speed or a price or a location.”

The push for better internet access – especially in rural areas – is not new. In March, Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act – co-sponsored by local Representative Dan Newhouse. The legislation mandated that the FCC improve broadband data collection.

And in 2019, the Washington State Legislature enacted Second Substitute Senate Bill 5511, which directed three state agencies to work in collaboration to meet the goal of providing access to affordable broadband to all residents.

The pandemic has only highlighted the issue of internet coverage.

“Many people used school or work for their connectivity,” said Lisa Brown, director of the Washington State Dept. of Commerce. “Then when the virus crisis hit, they’re at home maybe trying to work and do school and the inadequacy of their service speeds really comes to the forefront.”

The broadband office is collecting the data from the online survey and continually adding to a map of Washington that shows areas of high-speed internet, lower-speed or no service at all.

“Real patterns and trends are starting to arise,” said Elliott.

From the results gathered so far, Brown said about one in 10 people have no service and many lack adequate service.

And as most schools go virtual – that’s an issue. It’s something Brown and Elliott are working on.

“I was just on with the Finley principal this morning,” said Elliott on Wednesday. “We’re going to get the superintendents of schools excited about it, so students who lack the connectivity they need in order to be effective in their schooling, they can be home now and give me the speed test.”

However, it’s not going to be a high-speed process.

“It’ll take years to get infrastructure built out,” said Elliott. “We’re at the beginning, the genesis of that where we’ll really start to identify areas of need.”

The goal is for the map to change and grow, painting a more accurate picture, and eventually result in increased access.

“We really wanna utilize this information to help achieve our state goals and to make sure that every family has the access they deserve,” said Brown. “For their healthcare, education, entertainment and really for economic development for all of Washington state.”

The state has also set up WiFi Hotspots around the state to assist those with weak internet coverage. Click here to find a map of those locations.

To take the internet speed survey, click here.