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New Coalition Aims to Bridge Rural Oregon's Digital Divide

A new coalition is suggesting a new purpose for on-air frequencies no longer used by television stations to bring high speed Internet to rural areas. (jarmoluk/Pixabay)
A new coalition is suggesting a new purpose for on-air frequencies no longer used by television stations to bring high speed Internet to rural areas. (jarmoluk/Pixabay)
January 8, 2018

HERMISTON, Ore. – A new coalition is launching an effort to bring high-speed Internet to places that need it most – rural communities in Oregon and across the country.

Connect Americans Now is made up of rural advocacy groups, Internet service providers and technology companies such as Microsoft.

It wants the Federal Communications Commission to reserve part of the so-called TV White Space frequencies for wireless broadband access.

Joseph Franell, CEO of Eastern Oregon Telecom, says high-speed Internet is crucial to rural Oregon.

For example, in sparsely populated Gilliam County, farmers rely on Internet access to run self-driving tractors and remote irrigation systems.

"They can't operate these large farms that feed so many millions of people without access to this technology,” Franell stresses. “Well, imagine how expensive it is to build fiber into Gilliam County when it's larger than the state of Rhode Island but only has 2,000 people in it?"

TV White Space refers to the frequencies used for television before broadcasting became digital. The FCC has auctioned off some White Space channels, in some cases for billions of dollars.

Connect Americans Now is pushing for unlicensed access to a small percentage of this spectrum, so that rural Internet providers could access it for free to deploy broadband.

About 1 in 10 Oregonians doesn't have access to wired broadband.

Franell says the White Space channels are ideal in rural areas because the low-frequency waves can travel long distances easily.

He says opening up affordable wireless access to small communities will help expand telemedicine, education, and the markets for small businesses in rural Oregon.

"Broadband is the great equalizer of our era,” he states. “And what I mean by that is, there is no other, single thing that you can point to that has the potential for such great, positive impact in the lives of people that use it."

Connect Americans Now says its goal is to bridge the digital divide for more than 20 million Americans now living without high-speed Internet by 2022.

The Oregon Cattlemen's Association is among the groups that have joined the campaign.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR