High-speed internet access essential for rural residents

Many of us take internet access for granted.

We've got it at home, in the office and on the go. We expect a speedy connection and complain about the occasional momentary slow down.

But for those of us who don't live in cities or near them, high-speed access has been much harder to come by.

Thanks to the nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) and local utilities, that has changed.

In Franklin County, NoaNet and the Franklin PUD finished a 64-mile fiber optic installation from Pasco to Kahlotus this spring.

That means high-speed access for places like Edwin Markham Elementary School north of Pasco, Lourdes Family Health Center in Connell and the Kahlotus branch of Mid-Columbia Libraries.

Library patrons will have free high-speed internet access, something many folks out there don't likely have at home.

So, residents of the small towns along the 64-mile line have access to one of the fastest fiber optic networks in the world, according to NoaNet. That's saying something.

The network will provide greater access to information for students, better emergency services, coordinated patient care, a way for people to Skype with their loved ones around the world, and a gateway for local businesses to reach a world of customers.

Gov. Chris Gregoire was recently in town to tout the significance of the completion of the expanded fiber optic network in much of Eastern Washington.

"Access to broadband is as essential as access to electricity was 80 years ago," she said.

That's not hyperbole, but fact for a disbursed agricultural industry that depends on the latest technology for everything from market reports to storm warnings.

NoaNet's mission is to get broadband to areas that don't have it, particularly targeting schools, libraries, medical clinics and community institutions.

Service also has been added between Warden and Othello. Benton PUD has plans to expand its fiber optic network to Paterson and West Richland.

What you might not know is that the broadband access was brought to us courtesy of the federal government. We think it was a great use of tax dollars.

Mid-Columbia PUDs and NoaNet had plans to bring access to rural Washington but didn't have the money to do it. But the recession of 2008 actually helped in this case, with the federal government providing Recovery Act money for states ready to put in broadband service.

And Washington was first in line, getting 7 percent of the entire federal program. That came out to $243 million.

The Census Bureau now puts Washington in the top three most-wired states.

And the governor said the broadband project is helping to bring high-speed access to 99 percent of our state's residents.

That means big things for small businesses and our state's economy, too.

NoaNet and our PUDs are providing a great service to Eastern Washington.