Lake County isn’t alone in the struggle to provide reliable broadband Internet for far-reaching rural areas, though major strides have been accomplished in the past year.
Recently, Tnet contracted with Paisley School to be a center point for the area’s high speed broadband. The school’s accommodating spot to reach other areas in the town was a godsend for Paisley School and local residents who now enjoy the company’s higher speeds.
Over 50,000 homes and businesses in Oregon are waiting for a similar chance to get high-performing broadband Internet – some for the first time. Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund, which was started three years ago for broadband service expansion, could take up to six years to complete.
In Oregon, CenturyLink and Frontier Communications have been the major carriers working on expansion. Between them, they’re eligible to receive about $22 million in Connect America funding, though they must meet installation deadlines in order to access the money.
According to Federal Communications Commission spokesman Mark Wigfield, the goal is to get higher-speed Internet service to sparsely populated areas by adding some financial incentive for providers to install or upgrade the technology.
“Rural areas tend to be more expensive to serve because there’s fewer people, the terrain may be challenging,” said Wigfield. “So, the costs tend to be high and some of them may have some service, but it may be very slow and that just doesn’t meet modern needs; and others just may not have it at all.”
The problem, as explained by County Commissioner Ken Kestner, who has been a force to bring reliable speeds to the region, is that the larger providers won’t put in the manpower and resources to reach more rural areas. “It takes X amount of dollars for very few numbers in return,” said Commissioner Kestner. He further explained that federal funding goes to big corporations while smaller providers are left out.
Commissioner Kestner went on to expound the issue’s importance to not only get schools equipped with faster speeds but homes as well so that both parents and children can keep up with technology standards like in more populated areas. “We are so far from technology, so we are far behind those in the I-5 corridor,” he said.
A broadband conference will be held this winter in Bend to discuss these issues, which Commissioner Kestner is anticipating to attend. For now he is asking close-by providers to expand while working with the USDA to get funds to the smaller players.