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U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, center, tours the Toledo High School on May 29 with her press secretary Michael Brewer, left, Toledo Mayor Steve Dobosh, school Superintendent Chris Rust and city clerk Michelle Whitten.

Photo by Jake Morgan / Lewis County Tribune

Murray's Digital Equity Act models Toledo, WA

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

    TOLEDO — U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) toured the Toledo High School on May 29 to see how students and educators were benefiting from the area's broadband technology.

    Murray recently introduced the Digital Equity Act of 2019 to the U.S. Senate. She said the Digital Equity Act provides competitive grants to communities to lay new broadband as well as technology training.

    "Many seniors don't know how to use the Internet but there are so many government services online they need to use," Sen. Murray said about the need to improve digital literacy. "It's not just getting broadband, but learning how to use it."

    Replacing copper telephone lines with underground fiber-optic cables is extremely expensive and time consuming. Without state or federal assistance, it is far more profitable for telecommunications companies to focus on urban areas where there are more customers closer together.

    Murray hosted a round-table discussion at the school with city leaders, educators, school administrators, business owners and local broadband provider ToledoTel to learn more about Toledo’s trailblazing work to expand rural broadband access, and explore how her legislation would bring the federal government to the table to support efforts like those happening in Toledo to promote digital equity and ensure everyone has the skills, resources, and support necessary to take full advantage of the Internet.

    ToledoTel’s broadband coverage area extends for 386 square miles, with fiber connections to every home and business. The area’s unusually high adoption rate for high-speed Internet access is due in part to multiple federal grants in 2010 that offered free connections and a free trial period.

    ToledoTel vice president Dale Merten said federal grants helped ToledoTel's customers eliminate the barriers to broadband adoption.

    "We knew we could get DSL to 100 percent of houses but only 40 percent took it because they didn't see the value in it," Merten said. "The (Broadband Technology Opportunity Program) grant provided everyone with a free laptop, 40 hours of training from Centralia College on computer and software use, and gave them two years of free broadband. Jake went door to door to tell everyone about the grant and sign them up, and in two years we went from 40 percent adoption to 95 percent."

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, center, tours the Toledo High School on May 29 with her press secretary Michael Brewer, left, Toledo Mayor Steve Dobosh,
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray hosts a roundtable with Toledo leaders on May 29 at Toledo High School. Photo by Jake Morgan / Lewis County Tribune

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, center, hosts a round table with Toledo leaders on May 29 at Toledo High School.

Photo by Jake Morgan / Lewis County Tribune

 

    Merten said once people discovered the benefits of broadband speed in online shopping, streaming video services, social media, online gaming and e-commerce, they needed it.

    Megan Martin, a teacher at Toledo High School, said students are more receptive if you can show them the value they can get from something. She said the school offers a course in video game design as well as advanced placement classes for college-bound students and skill certification programs like AutoCAD that will help students go right into the workforce after graduation.

    Chris Rust, the superintendent of the Toledo School District, said the district begins providing digital skills instruction to students in kindergarten.

    "Our challenge as a district is finding technology that can utilize hand-me-down equipment," Rust said after he showed Murray a room full of obsolete computers no longer fit for school work. "ToledoTel provides this great service but most of the computers we have are too old to benefit from it. We're carrying water in thimbles."

    Rust said the district is continually seeking grants for low-cost portable computer devices like ChromeBooks to help students succeed.

    Toledo's gigabit community is the envy of its neighbors who are still stuck with dial-up speeds.

    "We have six Wi-Fi hotspots in town," said Toledo Mayor Steve Dobosh. He said the broadband is attracting people and businesses to the city, and the city is growing.

 

    View the Federal Communications Commission's Broadband Map: https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray speaks with students on May 29 at Toledo High School. Photo by Jake Morgan / Lewis County Tribune

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray speaks with students on May 29 at Toledo High School.

Photo by Jake Morgan / Lewis County Tribune

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