Gov. Chris Gregoire and community leaders celebrated the completion of a new broadband expansion project that will bring high-speed Internet access to underserved communities in southeastern Washington at the Kennewick Branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries in July.
The project is a joint effort between local Public Utility Districts, private companies, ports, cities, counties and the Northwest Open Access Network, or NoaNet. NoaNet is overseeing the construction of two federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grants worth a total of $140 million that will extend high-speed Internet to rural areas of the state.
The Mid-Columbia region route has been completed, bringing high-speed Internet to Kahlotus, Warden and Othello.
“This is a life-changer for a lot of communities,” said Greg Marney, NoaNet CEO. “High-speed broadband Internet expands the realm of possibility in rural Washington. In addition to improvements in medical care, schools, libraries, government agencies, businesses and individuals, expanding broadband makes good economic sense by creating immediate jobs and attracting economic investment to rural areas.”
Kyle Cox, executive director of Mid-Columbia Libraries, demand for services that depend on broadband, like Internet and free access to wireless service at library branches and e-books, are continually growing.
“We’ve seen a 45 percent increase in the e-book usage over last year,” Cox said.
The broadband expansion has provided the Mid-Columbia Library’s smallest branch, which is in Kahlotus, with high-speed broadband.
“This is the only source of broadband in many communities, and it will serve these communities way into the future,” Cox said.
Gregoire said that in today’s society, high-speed Internet is a necessity if Washington is to stay competitive with the rest of the world.
The NoaNet expansion will allow businesses to grow, benefit schools and hospitals and offer new opportunities for residents, Gregoire said.
“It is our broadband story for Washington and I liken it to our story 80 years ago, when we found we could bring electricity to everyone in the state. Now we are on the exact same path with the same outcome. Access to Internet is as essential today as electricity was 80 years ago.”
The Mid-Columbia region is the latest to be connected as part of a statewide broadband expansion program that all-told will reach more than 170 communities and 2,000 schools, hospitals, emergency responders, libraries, colleges and universities, including:
• Connecting 34 community colleges creating opportunities for collaboration on research and information exchange. • Making remote diagnosis, enhancing professional training with reduced travel, and making it possible to provide immediate assessment and guidance to emergency workers via videoconferencing.
• Enabling businesses to use credit/debit card systems, automated inventory and fulfillment systems, and web sales that are not currently available or extremely limited today.
• Giving farmers the ability to participate in commodities trading – a key competitive disadvantage to the family farmer.
NoaNet is leading the effort on behalf of a consortium of more than 60 private, governmental, tribal and non-profit participants. NoaNet is a non-profit mutual corporation providing wholesale telecommunications transport and is headquartered in Tacoma. For more than 10 years, it has operated a reliable public open-access broadband communication network totaling 1,831 fiber miles that provides rural areas access to broadband services, supporting 61 last mile providers that serve more than 260,000 customers.