WA: Mapping the Digital Divide


As the United States falls behind the world in broadband deployment, a serious obstacle to reversing that slide, as we highlighted in February, is that we have remarkably poor information on which neighborhoods and families have broadband access and what the challenges are to overcoming the digital divide in our communities. 

Washington State has taken a significant step in closing that information gap by requiring its state Utilities and Transportation Commission to survey broadband access in the state.  As part of the state budget (Sec. 149) recently approved, the bill language requires:

a survey to identify factors preventing the widespread availability and use of broadband technologies. The survey must collect and interpret reliable geographic, demographic, cultural, and telecommunications technology information to identify broadband disparities in the state. The commission shall consult appropriate stakeholders in designing the survey.

The bill language was sponsored by Washington Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (honored by Progressive States last week at our annual gala for her legislative leadership on Iraq), who wrote about the need for better digital access in a recent op-ed.  She noted that the digital divide between low-income and wealthier households' broadband access has serious economic implications for the future.  With growth from information technology likely to drive the creation of 1.2 million new jobs per year:

[That] growth will accrue to communities that use the technology. Those that don't will be left behind unless we take steps now to bridge the digital gap.

Every state needs to take action to close that gap, but the digital mapping required by Sen. Kohl-Welles' study, the results of which will be reported back to the legislature before the 2008 session, is a key first step to developing a game plan for our states to regain global leadership in broadband deployment.



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