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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rural communities across Washington to share $121 million in state funding for broadband access

A woman works at a desktop computer alongside an Apple Inc. laptop in a home office in this arranged photo taken in Bern, Switzerland, in August 2020.  (Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg)
By Laurel Demkovich States Newsroom

Nineteen construction projects that will expand access to broadband internet in Washington are set to receive federal funding from the State Broadband Office.

The office announced more than $121 million in grants to projects that will help deliver high-speed internet to communities across the state where it’s nonexistent or lacking.

Washington Commerce Director Mike Fong called the funding “the next significant step” toward the state’s goal to have high-speed internet available to every Washington resident and business.

“Broadband access is essential infrastructure, providing a critical gateway to education, health care, social and economic opportunities,” Fong said in a statement.

The grant awards, announced last week, could provide service to 14,794 households, according to the Commerce Department.

County governments, port authorities and public utilities are among the recipients.

The largest grant this cycle, $12 million, will go to the Tri County Economic Development District for a project in Stevens County. Other larger awards include funding for projects in Kittitas, Yakima and Okanogan counties.

Some other projects that received funding include a $3.4 million broadband expansion on the Spokane Tribe Reservation and a $3.1 million fiber optic infrastructure expansion in Point Roberts in Whatcom County.

Commerce noted that the grant awards are conditional on the receipt of federal funds.

This latest round of funding comes from the federal Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, which was established during the COVID-19 pandemic to help states respond to the public health emergency. The State Broadband Office, created by the Legislature to expand access to broadband across Washington, distributed the money.

Though about 91% of households in Washington have a broadband subscription, the state estimates that about 248,000 households currently do not use broadband services.

State law lays out goals that the State Broadband Office must meet to get all Washington businesses and residences access to broadband services with at least 150 megabits per-second download and upload speeds by 2028.

For this round of funding, Commerce said demand exceeded what was available by 261%, with 50 different project sponsors requesting more than $316 million.