Orcutt bill would provide options to rural counties to bring broadband to underserved areas

House Bill 2749 to receive public hearing tomorrow

Rep. Ed Orcutt wants to bring broadband and better Internet access to rural and coastal parts of the state through new legislation.

House Bill 2749, introduced on Jan. 15, would allow a local sales and use tax as a credit against the state sales tax for rural high-speed internet infrastructure without increasing the total sales and use tax rate. This would provide counties an opportunity to use the funds to make critical infrastructure investments.

“A constituent in west Lewis County told me that he can always tell when his kids are doing their homework online because his Internet connection slows to a crawl,” said Orcutt, R-Kalama. “This legislation isn't just about providing faster Internet – it's about laying the groundwork so many underserved parts of our state can connect to the Internet for the first time. It's about allowing people to connect with the information and resources that many of us have come to take for granted.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission's 2016 Broadband Progress Report, more than 200,000 Washingtonians lack high-speed broadband access. Fourteen percent of those living in rural areas lack access, compared to just 1 percent in urban areas. This table from the report illustrates the challenges facing residents of Lewis and Cowlitz counties.

“While this is a tax policy bill that raises funds for counties, it doesn't raise taxes for consumers – it just allows the county to keep a portion of the state sales tax to be spent as they see fit, keeping more dollars local. That's important to rural areas,” said Orcutt. “This is about empowering rural counties. They want to be a part of the solution. They know this is not only a quality of life issue, but an economic one.”

In Washington state, the policy debate on broadband availability has often included discussions on the uneven distribution of our economic growth.

“While it tends to be Republicans who represent many of these underserved communities, I've seen a concern and willingness from Democrats to work on this issue,” said Orcutt. “This is truly a 'One Washington' issue.”

The measure, which has six Democratic so-sponsors, was referred to the House Technology and Economic Development Committee. It will receive a public hearing Tuesday at 10:00 a.m.

Estimated annual revenue for rural counties (0.05% local option sales tax): https://houserepublicans.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/HouseBill2749.pdf

2016 Broadband Progress Report: Appendix E – Americans Without Access to Fixed Advanced Telecommunications Capability by County

The 2018 legislative session began on Jan. 8 and is scheduled to run 60 days.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov