House Bill 2664 could help rural WA communities access the inter - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

House Bill 2664 could help rural WA communities access the internet

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FRANKLIN COUNTY, WA - For many of us, not having access to the internet is like not having access to running water. It's become essential to our everyday lives, which is why one representative in Olympia is fighting for those without it.

Nowhere is the digital divide more extreme than in rural areas like this one across Washington State. In fact, 200,000 people don't have access to high-speed internet, and it's debilitating. 

The Whitelatch family owns Claar Cellars in Franklin County. The beautiful winery sits on 150 acres, and while business is going well, it could be a lot better.

"It's been the last five or six years that we've really aggressively been trying to grow and have been running into problems with internet speed," said John Whitelatch, owner of Claar Cellars Winery. "Whether that be winery management software that requires a faster internet connection or working with social media, it's been a thorn in our side for the last five years."

Having access to high-speed internet isn't a luxury anymore. It's a necessity. We use it for almost everything - and most of us take it for granted. But Whitelatch knows how valuable this commodity is, especially when he has to drive 30 minutes into the Tri-Cities to make a simple conference call.

"If we were wanting to do something like they were in Napa Valley, where they had a large production with a wine maker and he was able to interact directly with people online and discuss the new events, we would have to do something in town," Whitelatch said. "Rent a space, work out of someone's kitchen, try to find someone with faster internet so we would have a more consistent upload speed."

The Whitelatch family isn't alone. There are under-served rural communities across the state. So what's the solution?

Right now, Representative Mary Dye is pushing House Bill 2664 through the Senate. It would give ports throughout Washington the authority to build the fiber optic infrastructure needed for internet access.

"Everybody is on the internet now, and we would like to be too."