On October 15, Senator John McCoy (Tulalip), Washington State Legislature, will be a featured speaker at the “Taking Smoke Signals Digital” Conference at the Tulalip Resort Casino, Tulalip, WA.

John McCoy represents the Everett, Marysville, and Tulalip communities, and neighborhoods of Snohomish County in the Washington State Senate. John was elected to the House of Representatives in 2003, and appointed to the Senate in November 2013.

John served in the United States Air Force for 20 years, retiring in 1981 and went to work as a computer technician in the White House, where he stayed from 1982 to 1985, continuing his career in computer programming and operations and management in the private sector.

He returned to his home state almost two decades back to help bring the Tulalip community into the digital world. John was instrumental in the development of the Quil Ceda Village Business Park. John and his wife, Jeannie McCoy, make their home in Tulalip. Bringing the tribe and other underserved areas of Snohomish County fully into the 21st century with high speed broadband access to the Internet has been one of the driving goals for John since coming home.

“There are still many areas of Washington State where being underserved or not served by broadband is still a prevalent problem,” said McCoy recently. “We still have neighborhoods in Seattle that do not have broadband. For example in there are pockets in the 11th legislative district in South Lake Union, close to where Amazon is located, that do not get broadband. The problem is how to get broadband in there.

“There are wide expanses of rural areas that are going without broadband. For example on the Makah reservation the connectivity issue has been moving forward and making progress and yet, on the day the students have to take tests online, the tribal government has to shut down so the kids have bandwidth to take their tests. Another example is when high school seniors from Davenport had to drive 35 miles to Spokane to find Wi-Fi hotspots, and stop in parking lots so they could do their homework and get their senior projects done.”

McCoy said he can point to other areas of the state where the situation is the same. In the 1980s and 1990s, he points out, the term “Digital Divide” was being used to refer to individuals – who had broadband and who did not. These days, however, it means whole areas that are underserved or not served at all.

“When I served in the United States Air Force,” he recalled, “I learned technology from the ground floor. When I came home to the Tulalip Reservation, Stan Jones [Chairman of the Tulalip Reservation Board of Directors] recruited me to build an economy. I grew-up in technology but all I had on the reservation was dial-up. I had to figure out how to get the latest technology on the reservation.”

“When it comes to being wired,’ he said, “people claim 90 percent of Washington State had broadband connectivity, but the majority live in Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Everett, and in the small cities and towns between Seattle and Olympia.” Places outside of these areas, he said, have pretty sparse connectivity. “In the Tri-cities, they have holes in their network too,” McCoy said. “This is a statewide problem and we need to fix it.” In some places, city and county codes are keeping broadband out for aesthetic reasons. Cities and the counties both need to address this problem and fix it, he said.

“My frustration is that so many schools are doing without broadband connectivity, especially when the Washington state Board of Education is pushing for wide scale electronic testing. How can they implement that requirement when there are so many areas without broadband?

As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, Sen. McCoy is in a better situation than many to try to address this problem.

“The problem with the lack of broadband has been identified,” he said. “Now, there will be a lot of conversation on what kind of funding the government will provide. How do we get funding? How do we get the big telecoms to play? The telecom companies will not go to an area unless it’s financially feasible. At what point should they do something because it’s the right thing to do?”

Wherever broadband goes, business follows, he points out. “Broadband is an economic engine. Let’s take a look at the Quil Ceda Village Business Park that was developed in 2000. The Quil Ceda Village business park has become vital to building and sustaining the Tulalip culture and regional economy. Today the Quil Ceda Village is a popular destination for thousands of shoppers and provides a highly visible opportunity for a variety of businesses.

Today, thanks in large part to the efforts of John McCoy, the entire area in and around the Tulalip Reservation is double ringed in fiber. Tulalip owns its own phone and broadband Internet providers, an HDTV company and a fiber optic company.

“Once the latest technology was adopted, many businesses came knocking on our door and said they wanted to be there because the infrastructure was there,” said McCoy. “We think our success can be shared and serve as an example to many other areas on the state of Washington.”

Sen. McCoy also serves on the Senate Government Operations Committee and the Senate Rules Committee. He is an active member of four National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) panels. John is a co-chair of the NCSL committee on the Environment, and he’s also a member of the NCSL Labor & Economic Development Committee; the NCSL Communications, Financial Services & Interstate Commerce Standing Committee, and the NCSL Environmental Management Legislative Roundtable.

John and Jeannie McCoy have three daughters, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.