April 28, 2021—Washington state’s use of broadband mapping to the doorstep could be a model for deployment success in the country, said the head of the state’s broadband office.
“We built one of the most compelling maps in the country,” said Russ Elliot at the Route Fifty “Digital Divide” event Tuesday. “We’re mapping down to the doorstep,” adding in 2021, broadband mapping must occur on a much more precise level.
“Broadband is no longer census blocks, and counties,” Elliot said. “It’s now streets and addresses.”
The conference heard about Elliot’s role as head of the Washington State Broadband Office and how he means to achieve his goals in this role.
Funding and mapping
Elliot attributes much of Washington’s success to the specificity of their planning stage—both as it pertains to the funding required and their mapping efforts. Elliot made it clear that shovel-ready projects in Washington only receive the greenlight once they have made evaluations for very specific monies.
Though the cost of deployment may be high, Elliot argued that that cannot be an obstacle. “No longer can we be thinking in context of, ‘Well, that’s too expensive to build.’ We have to start thinking of context of, “What is it going to cost if we don’t [build]?’”
Specific funding coupled with what he touts as Washington’s superior mapping, is what Elliot claims has made Washington’s broadband deployment successful.
Before he was appointed to lead the Washington State Broadband Office by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2019, Elliot served as the broadband manager for the Wyoming Business Council. Before that, he had spent eleven years in the private sector working to deploy broadband to rural communities.
Elliot established early on that his philosophy regarding deployment is that it must be a “community-up discussion.” He said that every dialogue about expanding broadband must begin at the community level, and that expansion will only be successful if the uniqueness of the needs of every community are recognized.
He said that before his team even begins the planning stage, they build a partnership with the communities in question by understanding who they will be serving. These partnerships foster communication, professional and personal relationships, and improved stakeholder collaboration. He explained that it was only after they facilitate this relationship of mutual understanding that they enter the planning stage.
Elliot also emphasized that this not an effort that can be successful exclusively through public investment; he was adamant that expansion efforts will be most successful when communities leverage public-private relationships to accomplish their goals.
“Washington State understands that we didn’t become a state that’s very well connected based on all public infrastructure,” Elliot said. “We got there based on good, sound investment by private providers—we have to honor that investment, and bring forward public investment where the private investment doesn’t make sense.”
In conclusion, Elliot put it plainly, “Broadband doesn’t get built overnight,” he said. He acknowledged that this is a plan for the long haul, and it will take years to complete, “My five-year-old will be paying for it in about 15-20 years. If he is paying for it and he is not able to use the infrastructure that we’re paying for today, shame on me, and shame on all of us.”