It's hard to imagine home life without the internet, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now a law going into effect in Washington state is acknowledging that.
Starting in the new year, home sellers in Washington will be required to share their internet provider on signed disclosure forms that include information about plumbing, insulation and structural defects.
"Does the property currently have internet service?" the disclosure form will now ask, along with a space to say who the provider is. The law doesn't require sellers to detail access speeds, quality or alternative providers.
The new disclosure is the latest in an array of efforts by lawmakers across the country to respond to our increasing reliance on home internet connectivity for work, education and entertainment. That internet connection has become even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended the lives of billions of people, forcing quarantines and lockdowns as people adjust to a new normal of daily life.
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Even before the pandemic forced us to become even more reliant on the internet than we already were, millions of Americans lived in homes that hadn't yet been hooked up. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that more than 14 million Americans lack access to baseline broadband speeds, while the internet service tracker BroadbandNow pegs the number at closer to 42 million. Much of the broadband divide is in more rural parts of the country, but it also disproportionately hits historically low-income and diverse communities.
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Tech giants including Google, Facebook and SpaceX have attempted to spread internet further through subsidized connections, provided over land, via wireless or beamed from space. The US government has also committed $65 billion to expand broadband access, as part of its $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Despite all this, the home buying process hasn't generally treated internet connections with the same scrutiny as water, electricity or HVAC systems. Though Washington state's new rule doesn't require extensive details about internet connections, it does make connections a potential reason for someone to rescind a purchase agreement. The new paperwork issued by the state says buyers can back out of the purchase of a house within three days of receiving disclosure documents, unless they've otherwise waived their right to participate.