Digital divide: Washington families struggle to get internet access

As COVID-19 prompts a return to remote learning for school districts across western Washington, there's an even greater urgency to close the digital divide.

There is work happening in the statehouse to get greater access to families who, right now, have unsuitable or no access at home.

The internet issue has only become more apparent as people have been forced to navigate their lives in the pandemic.

The goal is to expand broadband access for not only today but the future.

"Our youngest learners experience the largest learning interruptions due to school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," said Courtenay Burns, of

With COVID-19 reshaping education and everyday life, getting online is a must for people in western Washington, but many across the state either have inadequate access or no access to broadband.

"Tragic that it has taken the pandemic to get digital equity work to this point where it has traction," said Sabrina Roach, of the Black Brilliance Research Project.

The House Community and Economic Development Committee is taking community feedback and fine-tuning HB 1673 for broadband infrastructure grants and loans and HB 1723 to close the digital equity divide.

People said they want more money to go to expanding the service to more communities, but they also want more transparency.

A state map shows just how many people don't have the connection they need.

As of this month, nearly 44,000 people have taken part in a statewide survey.

It found nearly six percent of people have no internet service, while about 41 percent have download speeds slower than 10 Mbps.

The federal government said 25 Mbps is the minimum download standard.

Even before the pandemic, researchers with the PEW Trusts found, "...students with no home access, slow home access, or cell-only access had approximately half a letter grade lower overall GPAs than students with fast home internet access — essentially the difference between a B- and a B average."

Ernie Rasmussen said he has StarLink service on the Spokane Indian Reservation, but not everyone does and there is a need to expand access to all communities.

"My wife's elderly parents coming to our house for telehealth appointments, where they could otherwise have to drive 90 minutes," Rasmussen said.

In Snohomish County, where a broadband task force first met in March 2021, the survey found 6.7 percent of residents had no broadband access while 35 percent have speeds slower than 10 Mbps.

There are tweaks to be made to the bills, but people said there's no time to waste.

"The time is now. We know the pandemic is not over, the digital divide is only growing, affordability is not getting any better," State Rep. Mia Gregerson said.

Both bills head to executive session in the committee on Friday.

You can also share your internet speeds in the statewide survey here.

Get breaking news alerts in the FREE FOX 13 Seattle app. Download for Apple iOS or Android.

Stay connected with FOX 13 News on all platforms:
DOWNLOAD: FOX 13 News and Weather Apps
WATCH: FOX 13 News Live
SUBSCRIBE: FOX 13 on YouTube
DAILY BRIEF: Sign Up For Our Newsletter
FOLLOW: Facebook Twitter Instagram