In each Ten Minutes with a Changemaker segment, members of the Next Century Cities team sit down with a local, state, or federal representative to explore broadband access in their respective communities. On June 8, 2020, we invited Washington’s Broadband Officer and resident cowboy, Russ Elliott. You can watch his full interview here.
In 2019, Elliott was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to serve as Director of the Washington State Broadband Office in the Department of Commerce. Before joining the State Broadband Office, Elliott was instrumental to broadband expansion in Wyoming as State Broadband Manager under the Wyoming Business Council.
Russ answered the questions below, framing our conversation.
Should universal broadband access be a national priority? If so, what would it take to achieve this goal?
Washington State believes broadband is a critical infrastructure and is no longer a luxury but a basic need. The discussion of universal broadband is a challenging one given the amount of funds it will take to see this to fruition. We believe the way to get there is through significant Collaboration between public and private entities. We also want to ensure this is an “everyone” problem and not just a rural problem.
What is the cost if we are unable to address the digital divide?
So often the conversation is that it is too expensive to build and our discussions focus on costs to build. I like this question because it also prompts the question: What are the costs if we do not build? If we think about this in terms of electrification of our country we see a great example of communities that were slow to adopt and are no longer “on the map.” We want to ensure this is not the case for communities and broadband for the future of Washington.
What are examples of how the digital divide has manifested itself in your state?
We have come to realize that Washington State is well connected due to a lot of good work being done by both private and public entities. The biggest issue that has arisen most recently given the effects of COVID-19 has been the challenge of affordability as one of our biggest access challenges.
What do you want Washington residents to know about your team’s efforts to expand access to high speed connectivity?
Currently Washington State is asking all residents to be engaged in this conversation. We believe the only way we will solve the problem is by having quantifiable data that allows us to talk intelligently about areas of need. We also believe broadband has become a community-up discussion rather than the traditional provider-down discussion. So we are empowering communities to lead these conversations.
Next Century Cities is committed to bringing awareness to broadband issues present in communities around the country and elevating those concerns to the national stage in order to effect positive change. To learn more about what we are doing to expand broadband access, check out our news updates.