Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

King County studies broadband access

A report due to the council in January could show opportunities for expansion.

A report due this January could define the broadband internet needs of residents in King County and shed light on areas that are under-served.

The county’s IT department and chief information officer Tanya Hannah have been conducting a survey of internet needs in the county. Preliminary data found that 96 percent of residents have access to some sort of internet where they live, but that affordability often restricts who can access broadband-speed service.

The King County Council districts 5 and 7 in the south end reported 93% and 91% access, respectively. Affordability tended to be one of the most common reasons. Hannah said the study was asking residents if they had access to internet with 25mb download speeds and 3mb upload speed. Most wireless carriers don’t offer that kind of speed, so the study was examining mainly computer internet.

A survey was conducted across the county, and access to a similar report conducted by Seattle last year was also included.

Whereas those in urban areas tended to have adequate options, pricing was an issue. In more rural areas of the county, there may not be options for people. Providers may not view it as profitable to finish first-last mile connections without incentives.

As part of the report, the county will be looking at incentives they could offer private developers to run broadband fiber lines to more areas of the county. This could come in the form of a public-private partnership or leveraging franchise agreements, Hannah said. The options will be discussed in the January report.

As 5G wireless networking approaches, it will likely be centered in urban areas instead of rural parts of King County, Hannah said. For many of the incorporated parts of the county, 5G is already on its way. Several companies have already begun rolling out necessary infrastructure, including on the Eastside.

The technology will allow much faster access, especially for products like enhanced reality and smart cars. So-called “smart cities” as well as the “internet of things” also relies on 5G, facilitated by small-cell towers.

In unincorporated King County, the council has franchise agreements with Comcast and WAVE Broadband. This allows the companies to use county right-of-way to provide cable television and internet to customers. The Comcast agreement will expire in 2024, and WAVE’s will expire in 2023. At that point, the county could negotiate requirements that the service providers expand their service areas.

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