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Gov. Jay Inslee pushes rural broadband access, slams Trump on net neutrality and immigration

UPDATED: Thu., June 14, 2018, 9:42 p.m.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, left, talk with Spokesman-Review Online Director Sean Stoops, center, and reporter Kip Hill, right, in the podcast studio at the Spokesman-Review Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, left, talk with Spokesman-Review Online Director Sean Stoops, center, and reporter Kip Hill, right, in the podcast studio at the Spokesman-Review Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington isn’t finished with its push to bring broadband internet to all reaches of the state, Gov. Jay Inslee said this week.

“After we listen to people’s ideas, we’re going to have our plans and it’s going to involve a broadband office,” Inslee said in an interview for a Spokesman-Review podcast on Wednesday. “We’re still putting the finishing touches on that. It’s going to help us dial in on what should be the investment, how to make it and where.”

The governor touted bipartisan work on legislation that enables the state’s port districts to assist in establishing faster internet for areas beyond the reach of major service providers, as well as setting $10 million aside in state funding to assist far-flung areas that don’t have access at a minimum speed. The Democrat pointed to Washington’s efforts as being ahead of the curve, one of several policy areas where he said the state was leading, while slamming the Trump administration for some of its decisions in other areas.

The port district bill was pushed by state Rep. Mary Dye, a Republican from Pomeroy. It allows the state’s 75 public ports to build and operate the networks needed to deliver high-speed internet, and to enter into contracts with private companies to provide service.

Dye said the idea dates back to a visit Inslee made to Garfield County a couple of years ago, where the governor asked representatives of the local struggling economy – a John Deere dealership had just closed – what could be done to kick-start local commerce.

“My vision is that we need access to the global marketplace, and that requires access to high-speed internet,” Dye said.

The legislative fix, which passed unanimously in both chambers of the Washington Legislature, removed population requirements for their port districts to begin forging partnerships to build infrastructure. Dye said that kept some port districts from working to serve rural customers.

Inslee stopped short of calling high-speed internet a “public good” that should be provided by the government, but repeatedly said access was “vital” to pursue educational and economic opportunities.

“It’s always a matter of nomenclature, but what it means to me is that we ought to think of it as we have transportation infrastructure, to some degree,” Inslee said.

That’s a similar argument to one that’s being made in Spokane, where City Councilman Breean Beggs has set up a working group to explore the possibility of the city extending the underground infrastructure that private companies would need to connect homes and businesses to a high-speed line. The effort has been criticized by some as a potential overreach of the government into a private market and a waste of taxpayer dollars given the push toward faster satellite internet access.

Dye said she believed it was important to retain private companies in the equation, rather than adopting the models used in some cities where the city both owns and operates the fiber networks it builds.

“When a municipality tries to run the whole thing, which they often do, they can’t keep up,” Dye said.

Inslee said he hadn’t heard of the efforts in Spokane, but encouraged both private and public interests to tackle broadband access.

“I think the challenge is big enough, that we ought to have multiple organizations that are dedicated to it,” the governor said.

Net neutrality, immigration policies misguided

Inslee continued his criticism of the Trump administration’s position on another issue for internet users: net neutrality. On Monday, federal rules expired that supporters said protected consumers from service providers charging more for certain types of content and faster internet speeds. The Republican-appointed members of the Federal Communications Commission argued those rules – set up during the Barack Obama presidency – applied an archaic set of constraints and regulations to internet service, an argument also made by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane.

The state passed its own law leaving in place the former federal protections. He said he hopes other states would follow suit.

“It was a boneheaded move by the president to abandon it,” Inslee said.

The governor had similar harsh words for the Trump administration’s handling of immigration detention, following a visit to a federal prison in SeaTac this weekend. Protesters said 175 asylum-seeking women were being held following a crackdown on illegal immigration at the Mexican border announced in early May by Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a news conference in Arizona.

“We, for a long time, have had a mechanism where people could ask Uncle Sam for asylum and under certain circumstances could be granted, if they came from war-torn regions, or threatened with violence,” Inslee said. “And in this instance, rather than following that law, the Trump administration is trying – child abuse is maybe the wrong word, because it’s kind of loaded, but it’s certainly torturous for children.”

Inslee said he was “flabbergasted” that Trump said Democrats were to blame for the policy. In a May 26 tweet, Trump said, “Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there (sic) parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.”

White House officials later told reporters that the situation was created by the patchwork of immigration laws that had been in place since the Clinton administration. But Inslee said Trump’s comments indicated some remorse out of the White House for the policy change.

“This is an order he specifically made himself, and we know he feels guilty about it because he tried to blame someone else for it,” Inslee said.

The governor didn’t shy away from Washington’s confrontational role with the Trump administration, which has included multiple lawsuits brought by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson targeting policies that include a proposed travel ban, ending the immigration policy that allows children of those who entered the country illegally to stay in America and suspending rules targeting vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

“Well, I don’t wake up in the morning looking for trouble, or anxiety, or fault,” Inslee said. “I’m not sure I really approach it that way. I’m sure there’s something the administration is going to do right; I can’t really think of at the moment.”

Inslee did go on to credit Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to visit Switzerland and learn about that country’s vocational training schools, drawing ties to the state’s initiative linking classrooms with professionals.

Still, for all the criticism Inslee lobbed at the administration, he remained cagey about a potential presidential run despite buzz that has been building over the past 12 months.

“I’m focused on 2018. None of us should be focused on 2020 – there’s an urgent need to respond today,” Inslee said. “There’s a fire, and when there’s a fire, you pull the fire alarm and you pour water on it. That has to happen in 2018. We can’t wait until 2020.”


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