Washington State is preparing to spend its share of the $42 billion in federal infrastructure program funds next summer to enable high-speed access in underserved areas, reported Crosscut. In the meantime, lawmakers are working to ensure private telecommunications companies don’t limit rural broadband expansion.
Crosscut reported that in 2021, Comcast and Rural Wireless tried to derail eight broadband projects in rural Washington communities by filing objections, claiming service already existed. And public utilities districts (PUDs), who compete for the same pool of funding, challenged the objections. The Public Works Board is required by state law to allow private telecoms to object to grant applications to prevent “overbuild.”
Some critics say the definition of “overbuild” has led to any company offering internet service in an area or that has begun infrastructure construction to squelch broadband expansion efforts with little accountability. In response, the Public Works Board voted unanimously in April to require more information from telecoms filing objections, including permits, invoices, and engineering plans, reported Crosscut.
PUD officials are challenging private service providers’ objections since they’re losing out on federal funds. One official told Crosscut that the board should reject objections if the company filing the grievance can’t prove they offer service to 100 percent of end users in a project area. Other concerns center on speed, with some subscribers (85 percent in Pend Oreille County) logging speeds lower than 25 Mbps.
The Public Works Board planned to hold a public hearing in January 2023. Crosscut reported that details on the objection process still need to be made available by the board, which has plans to approve a final version of the rules in February 2023.