Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
January 13, 2000
When I became governor, I made it a priority to promote "One Washington" - where we are not divided between urban and rural, east and west, or rich and poor. Where every citizen has access to the same opportunities - jobs, education, health care and other services.
Telecommunications is vital to achieving our vision of "One Washington." A modern and efficient telecommunications infrastructure is critical to a community's economic vitality. It provides educational opportunities. It improves vital government services. It impacts a community's ability to attract businesses and create jobs.
Yet in many communities, advanced telecommunications services are coming far too slowly, and in some parts of our state they are not available at all. We need to speed telecommunications investment in this state so that all citizens have access to the services they need to prosper in an information-age economy.
Last year, we took several important steps to promote investment in rural areas. We provided tax credits for telecommunications-dependent businesses that locate in rural counties. We provided Community Economic Revitalization Board funding for technology and telecommunications infrastructure in rural counties. We approved continued funding for the K-20 educational telecommunications network, which now provides high-speed services to all our state's universities, colleges, and public school districts.
This year we want to build on those steps. Today, I am proposing a legislative package that promotes telecommunications investment by encouraging new market entrants, reducing regulation, and ensuring that competitive markets work more efficiently.
First, we propose to increase the number of service providers in rural areas by authorizing public utility districts and rural port districts to provide wholesale telecommunications services within their districts. By allowing PUDs and rural ports to make services available to retail telecommunications companies, we promote competition in the retail market - and more consumer choice.
Second, we want to bring the information age to all Washingtonians. My supplemental budget calls for more than $2 million to connect Washington's 68 public library districts to the state's K-20 educational telecommunications network. With this modest investment, all Washingtonians will have Internet access through their public library. This will provide residents throughout the state better access to their government, to essential public services, and to educational institutions and opportunities.
Third, we want to improve the regulatory climate in this state to remove disincentives to investment. Where current regulations have failed to promote investment, we want to allow companies to negotiate an "alternative form of regulation" with the WUTC [Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission] that best addresses the specific needs of a company and its customers. This negotiated regulation will provide the company certainty as to its regulatory obligations for a set period. This reduces the company's risks so that it can make sound investment decisions. We also propose to reduce regulation for companies that establish separate and independent subsidiaries that provide advanced services.
Fourth, we propose to speed deployment of advanced services by streamlining the local regulations that companies face when siting or constructing facilities. Right now there is often a complex patchwork of requirements that differ from community to community. This slows the roll-out of the very same services these communities need for their own economic vitality.
Specifically, the bill sets reasonable timelines for reviewing construction applications and reasonable conditions by which cities can lease their rights-of-way for wireless facilities. With these uniform standards, we balance the state's interest in building a modern and efficient telecommunications system with local governments' interests in maintaining their rights of way and protecting their citizens.
Finally, we want to reform universal service. The value and efficiency of a telecommunications network depends not just on the technology used, but in the network's ability to connect as many people as possible. Universal service is a long-standing program that - by rate averaging of high-cost and low-cost areas - ensures that people in all parts of the state, urban and rural, have access to affordable basic telephone service.
The current system was developed decades ago when the phone company was a regulated monopoly, and so it focuses on existing companies and technologies but not on new competitors or new technologies. This system is not sustainable in a competitive marketplace. But we can't just sit by until the cost of service in rural areas gets less affordable.
This year, we have worked with the legislators of both parties, the WUTC, industry, and consumer organizations to resolve the differences that have frustrated universal service reform in the past. While we have made great progress, some remaining issues must still be addressed. So we are still working hard, and we hope to bring forward a bill with broad bipartisan support during this session.
That's our legislative package, but we don't stop there. Telecommunications isn't just about home pages and phone calls. It's about jobs.
So we will also put in place a pilot project that demonstrates that with the tools we provided last year, and with coordinated planning and public-private partnerships, rural communities can develop the infrastructure they need to attract and nurture high-tech businesses.
Under this pilot project, the state will seek out telecommunications-dependent businesses looking to expand offices and facilities, and match them with rural communities that can serve as potential sites for those offices. We'll undertake a needs assessment of the community, identify gaps in infrastructure, and provide resources in the form of technical assistance and loans and grants to fill those gaps. This pilot will provide us with a road map for continued infrastructure development throughout Washington - "One Washington."
Many people in this room today have spent long hours working with us on the various parts of this package. Senator Lisa Brown, Rep. Erik Poulsen, UTC Chair Marilyn Showalter, CTED Director Martha Choe, the Assn. of Washington Cities, the PUDs, the Public Ports Assn., the Washington State Grange, and the many private companies represented here today. Great job, everybody.
A number of companies have said they look forward to working with us as we go forward with our pilot project. With us today is Krishna Fells, CEO of Independent Marketing Services of Seattle, which is looking to expand its call-center operations. We'd like to steer her toward rural Washington.