June 22, 2024

Federal authorities allocate nearly $700 million to Oregon for high-speed internet

The FCC National Broadband Map shows areas with access (blue cells) and without (white).
June 28, 2023

Surveys and meetings to help shape Business Oregon’s five-year plan to implement service improvements

By Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has earmarked nearly $700 million for high-speed internet service in areas of Oregon that lack service.

The money is part of $42.5 billion allocated nationwide as part of a broadband equity program in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure law.

Oregon leaders hailed the announcement.

“Access to quality internet in 2023 is critical to a community’s local economy,” Gov. Tina Kotek said in a statement. “This substantial investment in Oregon’s broadband infrastructure will help to remedy the digital divide in rural, unserved and underserved communities across the state, ensuring that Oregonians are able to access telehealth, business opportunities, education and so much more.”

Kotek singled out U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo for special thanks, along with Oregon’s senior U.S. senator, Ron Wyden, who pushed authorities to add nearly 50,000 homes and businesses to the national broadband map, showing they needed service. The original map indicated they had high-speed internet, which is not the case. Without that change, federal authorities would have allocated Oregon hundreds of thousands of dollars less for internet connections, Wyden said in a release.

Oregon’s broadband office, which is part of Business Oregon, the state’s economic agency, has been instrumental in gathering information from Oregonians about their access to service. It held 12 public meetings across the state in May and June, and still seeks community input. For more information about that, go here.

Fiber optic cable image by Markus Jöckel from Pixabay

Office officials were clearly expecting much less money from the administration: The website says the state is eligible for at least $100 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration –  not the $688.9 million that was allocated.

Wyden called the award “life-changing” for residents.

“In rural Oregon, a community without reliable broadband is like a farm without water — it’s not going to last very long,” Wyden said in a release. “Just over the past few days traveling from Ontario to Burns, Baker to John Day and Joseph, I’ve heard stories of students doing their homework in the library parking lot, seniors unable to connect to crucial telehealth services and rural Oregonians paying huge amounts for unreliable broadband.”

In January, Raimondo promised Wyden that the administration would fix the map before the federal funds were allocated. The updated map by the Federal Communications Commission shows the availability of fiber, cable, DSL, satellite or fixed wireless internet services at each address. The mobile broadband map shows the 3G, 4G, and 5G coverage of each mobile provider in a particular area. 

Business Oregon’s broadband office is crafting a five-year action plan to map out use of the funds. It’s relying on input from surveys and meetings to shape the proposal and pinpoint those currently lacking high-speed internet.

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.

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Bert Etling

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