Oregon begins mapping out plan to expand rural broadband after big federal grant

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
July 17, 2023 1 p.m.
FILE: Ryne Smith works at the CyberMill internet café in Seneca, Ore., in 2022. Grant County’s economic development office helped CyberMill open so that people could get free, reliable, fast internet access. Oregon will receive $688 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve broadband internet access in undercovered areas like Grant County.

FILE: Ryne Smith works at the CyberMill internet café in Seneca, Ore., in 2022. Grant County’s economic development office helped CyberMill open so that people could get free, reliable, fast internet access. Oregon will receive $688 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve broadband internet access in undercovered areas like Grant County.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Oregon is expected to receive nearly $700 million to expand broadband access to rural and underserved areas in the state.

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The funding comes from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and spending will be overseen by the Oregon Broadband Office.

The office held public hearings around the state to learn from community members how the lack of reliable broadband has affected them, as well as what they would like to see. Nick Batz, director of the office, believes this funding will have a big impact for rural communities that have not had access to high-speed internet.

“The age-old question for rural communities since we’ve moved on from natural resource economics is: ‘What jobs do we have for our young people? How do we get kids to move back to communities they grew up in after they’ve graduated high school?’ A lot of folks we’ve talked to around the state see broadband as the key.”

Surveys and research conducted by the office will be used to help construct a five-year action plan that will guide how the federal money is spent. The office has a deadline in December to deliver a plan to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for review.

It’s historic,” Batz said. “It’s not every day, we get $688.9 million for broadband deployment in the state of Oregon.”

Nick Batz joined OPB’s Think Out Loud to discuss the broadband access funding with guest host Geoff Norcross. You can listen to the full conversation here:

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