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Gov. Inslee shakes hands with supporters at an event kicking off is 2020 presidential campaign. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Washington will soon have a dedicated broadband office tasked with expanding internet access to underserved parts of the state. Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that creates the broadband office into law this week.

The office will manage the state’s broadband budget and work to bring in federal funds. The new law also creates a competitive grant and loan program to fund projects that expand broadband to communities that don’t currently have reliable internet.

The broadband office’s initial budget is $21 million and the governor’s office hopes to grow it to $100 million in the next four years, according to John Flanagan, policy advisor to Inslee.

“The main thing that we’re pushing here, in almost every case, is public-private partnerships, being really creative with modeling, making sure that an entire community is behind a project, and trying to pool as many resources as possible,” Flanagan said.

The broadband office will take a novel approach to tracking internet service throughout the state. Officials are soliciting applications from residents for internet projects and assuming, by default, that those areas are unserved.

“That’s the reverse of what the FCC does,” Flanagan said. “They say, ‘private providers, where do you deliver service?’ And they collect it at the census tract level, which grossly overestimates the areas that actually have service.”

The law establishes a goal of providing high-speed broadband access to all Washington residents and businesses by 2024.

“The digital divide should not limit any Washingtonian’s ability to learn, innovate or connect through robust internet access, whether it is students researching ideas at home, first responders handling an emergency or entrepreneurs launching a business,” Inslee said in a blog post. “This proposal will help bring broadband access to all Washingtonians.”

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