A century ago the economies of rural areas were held back by lack of electricity, phone service and adequate highways. Nowadays, slow internet connections can be a similar handicap — one the Pacific County Economic Development Council and others are endeavoring to address.
With growing regulatory and environmental threats facing some of Pacific County’s most vital industries, we not only have to play defense but also do what we can to develop new opportunities. One of the most attractive of these consists of making this a viable place from which to conduct the kinds of business that depend on lightning-fast internet connection speeds.
Exactly how fast is a moving target. What was fast five years ago is obsolete now. As we recently reported, U.S. regulators increased the standard for high-speed internet or broadband on Jan. 25. The Federal Communications Commission raised the download speed required for a connection to qualify from 4 to 25 megabits per second or faster. Upload speeds now have to be at least 3 megabits per second.
But even these speeds are only marginal for businesses that conduct operations in “the cloud,” the shared computers that store and process data in remote locations hundreds or thousands of miles from this still-isolated coastline. For one, many of the Chinook Observer’s core functions are now cloud-based. This editorial was written with software linking our building to the internet, with the digits representing these words stored in multiple computer server farms, we know not where. When complete, a page designer at our office in Salem, Oregon places it on a digital representation of a newspaper page, which is sent in digital form to a machine in Astoria that turns it into a printing plate for our press. All these steps and others rely on fast and reliable internet connections. Minor hiccups in broadband speed occasionally complicate our jobs. On the other hand, as more of our readers get high-speed connections, it will incentivize us to offer more in the way of news videos and other multimedia services.
The digital-communication needs of many businesses are far more sophisticated than ours, with split-second differences potentially meaning large profits or losses on international commodity markets. Other needs are less demanding but still important to individual entrepreneurs, who for example sell items on eBay to supplement their income.
To the extent we can approach or match broadband speeds available in urban areas, this will be a reasonable homebase for anyone whose job is based in the internet rather than bound in a physical place. This makes every house a potential profit center, generating income from outside the county that partially circulates here in the form of everything from building construction to groceries.
We must urge public officials and service providers to help lower the cost of connecting fiber cables to homes and businesses countywide. Our goal should be download speeds of 100 megabits per second or faster across the county within the next five years.
On the state level, Senate Bill 5935 has passed in the Senate and is awaiting action by the House of Representatives. It would create an Office on Broadband Access and launch a study to find strategies to expand availability and break down barriers to providing service. Grants would be provided to local governments and tribes to build broadband infrastructure. Certain public utility districts would be allowed to provide internet services on their broadband networks. It also authorizes rural port districts to offer wholesale internet services.
If Washington state is serious about ensuring rural areas share in Puget Sound’s economic boom, the House should get busy and pass SB5935. You can tell them so by calling 1-800-562-6000. There are telecommunications companies that don’t want it to pass. It will take vocal citizens to overcome these objections.