Make the McKenzie Connection!

Waiting for a connection?

Rebuilding efforts are continuing

“The bottom line is that restoration is progressing at a significant and steady pace.” That’s the most recent assessment on the rebuilding of Lumen/CenturyLink’s communications infrastructure from the company” director of government affairs, Tre Hendricks.

Recent work in the Leaburg and Vida areas has included placing or splicing defective copper cable along 8,000’ feet of the McKenzie Highway. Crews also found a spot where stolen cable had to be replaced to reconnect six customers.

Upriver, Hendricks said fiber had been placed for approximately 15 total miles and workers were now about 4,200’ from Blue River.

Last week the Public Utility Commission of Oregon (PUC) approved an agreement for alternative telecommunications service options for some customers impacted by the recent wildfires.

“The PUC opened an investigation in early Nov-ember because customers complained that landline telephone service had not been restored to them in the months since the Labor Day wildfires,” according to Megan Decker, who chairs the commission. “In many instances, the areas where these outages occurred have little to no cell reception, making landline service restoration even more crucial to these communities. This agreement demonstrates positive steps forward to ensure Oregon residents have access to options for critical communications while the repair of damaged systems continue.”

Terms of the agreement include restoring POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) no later than February 12th. In addition, customers whose service hasn’t been restored are eligible immediately to request a satellite phone from a designated service provider for temporary use that will be reimbursed through bill credits from the CenturyLink.

Hendricks said the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund allocated funding to SpaceX to provide 100Mbps, low latency (LEO satellite) Internet and voice service in the McKenzie River corridor. “That means that in addition to Spectrum/Charter, ATT, Verizon, and CenturyLink/Lumen, SpaceX will likely be authorized to provide service in the area,” he said.

Space X’s Starlink satellite broadband service promises to deliver better, faster broadband to rural areas but when it might actually be available locally is unknown. Speed tests from people participating in the Starlink beta tests report peak download speeds upwards of 114 Mbps, with upload speeds topping out at around 40 Mbps.

But while Starlink will certainly help bridge the “digital divide” by bringing better options to rural Americans, Elon Musk has acknowledged it won’t have the capacity to seriously disrupt regional U.S. telecom monopolies like AT&T, Verizon, Spectrum, and Comcast.

“I want to be clear, it’s not like Starlink is some huge threat to telcos. I want to be super clear it is not,” Musk told attendees of a satellite conference earlier this year. While Starlink will provide the kind of speeds and latency that should work for many services and games, Musk said the company simply won’t have the capacity to compete in major metro markets

He also hasn’t indicated whether Starlink connections will feature the kind of throttling, usage caps, or overage fees seen with cellular and traditional satellite broadband.

In the meantime a temporary communications tower in McKenzie Bridge has been established as a stopgap until the physical infrastructure of copper and fiber is rebuilt.

“Lumen has been working on a solution to heat up all POTS customers in the McKenzie Bridge area in conjunction with the Elevate Technology Group.” Hendricks said “Stability issues were attributed to the radio solution not being full duplex. Lumen is purchasing radio services from Elevate. This is anticipated to fix the problem. This is scheduled for construction and turn up this week. This provides service to Lumen’s current 172 current POTS customers.”


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