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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

December 28, 2010 at 1:49 PM

State of broadband in Washington: Fast and plentiful, in cities

Washington residents generally have good access to fast broadband services – as long as they’re not living in rural areas.

That’s the gist of the first comprehensive report from the Washington State Broadband Office. A federal program to assess and improve the nation’s broadband funded the office, which is part of the state Department of Information Services.

Broadband speed isn’t an issue, generally, in Washington. The state’s average download speed is 6 megabits per second, versus the national average of 3.9 Mbps.

Access isn’t a huge problem to most residents. The state “ranks about average” for service with downloads up to 10 Mbps.

Fast broadband is available to nearly 90 percent of the state’s households. In highly populated areas, affordable broadband at all commercially available speeds is available. Businesses and major institutions generally have access to ultrafast speeds, up to 10 gigabits per second, the report said.

The cost of service also tends to be lower than the national average of $8 per megabit per second (which in turn is much higher than in Korea, England and Japan, which pay around $2 per meg). A chart included in the report (UPDATE: I’ve further explained the chart in this entry on broadband costs):

cost per mbps.jpg

As in the rest of the country, rural areas are the least served. About 1.8 percent of households in the state can’t get service faster than 3 to 6 Mbps. The report estimates that 8.3 percent of the state’s households can’t get access at the state’s average speed of 6 Mbps.

Despite the relatively fast broadband available to most residents, the report has an urgent tone and recommends the state do more to propagate broadband and assist telecommunications companies.

It suggests speeding permits for broadband projects, making public property available, deploying more fiber-optic cables during road projects and offering up underutilized portions of government fiber networks.

The report recommends putting more state services online. It also says the broadband office is working on a public-private partnership that will launch a campaign “to educate the public about the benefits of broadband.”

As directed by the Legislature, the broadband office is forming a “broadband advisory council” that will create another report on ways to leverage broadband to boost businesses, government services and economic development.

The state office was funded with $7.2 million in grants from the American Reinvestment

and Recovery Act Broadband Stimulus Funds. It’s part of a national effort that began in 2008 to assess and map broadband service.

I wonder if anything can be done to bring additional broadband providers to rural areas, giving phone and cable companies more competition. The report says 19 percent of property parcels in the state have only one broadband provider available and 9 percent have no broadband providers available.

Federal help may come to some rural residents in the meantime.

The report notes that $244 million in stimulus money was awarded to extend broadband in Washington. Additionally, Frontier Communications – the company acquiring Verizon’s phone business in the state – has pledged to invest $40 million over the next few years in its system.

Here are the areas that still have no broadband available:


Comments | More in | Topics: broadband, Broadband, government


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