U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer plans to introduce a bill this month that would help expand broadband access to rural areas such as the West End of Clallam County, he said.
The legislation would provide a 75 percent tax credit for groups of qualifying individuals or businesses that form a limited broadband district and build a local network.
Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said the bipartisan bill would help address the “last mile” issue for off-the-grid or under-served areas that do not have access to broadband.
“You can envision if there’s a neighborhood full of people, or a business park that’s unserved, the capacity to kind of pool together and extend this and get some tax relief from the investment could really mean the difference between having access to internet or not having access to internet,” Kilmer said in an interview on July 6.
“And increasingly, your ability to learn is tied to this. Your ability to have a successful business is tied to this.”
Kilmer said he planned to introduce the bill with at least one Republican colleague later this month.
“These challenges aren’t unique to red districts or blue districts,” Kilmer said after a roundtable discussion with community leaders at the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center. “They’re affecting everybody.”
Kilmer is a Port Angeles native who represents the 6th Congressional District, which covers the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas and most of Tacoma.
The roundtable included representatives of the Clallam County Economic Development Corp., Port of Port Angeles, Port Angeles School District and city of Port Angeles.
Kilmer said he learned from Makah tribal officials that students in Neah Bay were bused to another community to take a state-mandated exam on the internet because they did not have broadband in their school.
The library at the Hoh Tribe is in a trailer that does not have internet, Kilmer said.
“That presents challenges in terms of access to information and access to educational opportunity, and access to economic opportunity,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer met with the owner of a struggling Grays Harbor County business Thursday that was just outside of a broadband service area, he said.
“That presented a challenge in terms of their profitability and even safety concerns since their security systems were online,” Kilmer said. He added: “The notion here isn’t to solve all of the problems but to provide a tool that could contribute to solving that last mile problem.”
Port Angeles School District web design and technical support staffer Christian Snow said 30 percent to 40 percent of students in the district do not have reliable internet at home.
“A lot of our teachers are now starting to move to a flipped classroom, meaning that they’re doing lectures in the evening via video for the students, which means the students need to have the ability to get online,” Snow said. “We’re sending (Google Chromebook) devices home with students soon. That’s going to be a part of their life — digital connection and the internet — and reliable broadband is a major part of that.”
Clallam County Economic Development Corp. Interim Director Julie Knott said the North Olympic Peninsula needs broadband for collaboration.
“If we can’t talk to each other, we can’t collaborate and be better leaders,” Knott said. “If we don’t have access, we can’t be a team.”