Rural Broadband Bill From 7th District Rep. Heads To Senate
A bill that would bring more financial support to improve high-speed internet in rural areas is getting bipartisan support in the Washington House.
The measure would open up rural areas for low-interest state loans and grants by defining frontier counties, with less than 50 residents per square mile.
"It gives us more of a surgical ability to target specific areas," said bill sponsor Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda).
Kretz represents the 7th District, which includes most of Douglas County along with Okanogan County and a portion of Grant County in North Central Washington.
The bill would open rural areas for loans and grants to provide high-speed internet for the purpose of economic development through the state Community Economic Revitalization Board.
The board provides financial support to local governments and federally recognized Indian tribes, financing the cost to build infrastructure.
Kretz says the goal of his measure is to funnel state funding intended for broadband infrastructure into less populated counties.
"In areas that are really underserved - low income generally - a lot of tribal folk that just don't have any options," Kretz said. "And I think, in the future, this will give us a much better method of getting money out to some of our most underserved communities in the state."
The bill passed the House by a 94-3 margin and is now in a Senate committee.
The bill is scheduled to get a hearing in the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs at 10:30am Thursday.
The measure, HB 1835, passed the House Friday, beating a Tuesday deadline for bills to clear the legislative house where they originated.
The state Senate and House will be considering bills from the other chamber starting Wednesday.
(Nic Scott with Washington State House Republican Communications contributed to this report)