By Rusty Bentz
Columbia Basin Bulletin 

Guest Opinion

A rebuttal to dam breaching, we can have fish and dams

 

October 5, 2023 | View PDF



Oregon will receive $157 million from the federal government to help connect about 17,000 homes and businesses to the Internet, the White House announced Wednesday.

The money, which comes from the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package passed by Congress in 2021, follows an earlier allocation of $688 million for broadband in Oregon through the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, also passed in 2021.

“Between those two programs, I would expect that we’re going to get all Oregonians that are currently unserved access to service,” Oregon broadband director Nick Batz said during a news conference with the White House announcing the new funding. Several Oregon congressional members and Gov. Tina Kotek also took part.

An early 2020 study found that an estimated 1.7 million Oregonians lived in areas without broadband access or with outdated basic services that don’t meet current demands. The pandemic brought a shift to remote work and school and more telehealth services, highlighting the need for reliable Internet access.

“During the pandemic, it just became game-set-match clear that if a family did not have strong, affordable broadband so that a parent could work from home, that several children could learn from home, we could just not say there was equal economic and educational and health opportunity in our country,” said Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to President Joe Biden and coordinator of the COVID relief funding package.

Close to $8 million of the new funding will go toward administrative costs, with the remaining $149 million paying to connect Oregonians who don’t have access to the Internet with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 Mbps. Those are enough to run multiple smart devices, stream video in 4K, download large files quickly, and play online games, according to Internet service providers.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, compared expanding Internet access to the stories his mother told about how life changed when her home got electricity.

“Broadband today is as important as electrification was a century ago,” he said. “Running a small business, seeing a doctor, paying bills, attending class, chatting with friends, shopping for merchandise, even hosting meetings like this press call, all are so much part of modern life. You need high-speed broadband to do it.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said the new funding will mean Oregon kids and parents won’t have to drive around in bad weather to find a school or business with wifi so they can do homework or other basic tasks.

While rural Oregonians are less likely to have access to the Internet at home than their urban counterparts, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, noted that some Oregonians in larger cities also lack reliable, affordable high-speed Internet.

The Biden administration has secured commitments from Internet service providers who cover a combined 80% of the U.S. population to offer plans that cost no more than $30 a month for eligible low-income families. Oregonians can check whether they qualify and sign up at GetInternet.gov.

Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Oregon, said tens of thousands of her constituents lack Internet access. Her district includes Salem and Portland’s southwestern suburbs, as well as farming communities in Polk, Yamhill, and Marion counties.

“That lack of reliable broadband in rural communities like mine isn’t merely an inconvenience,” she said. “It’s a serious problem with true negative ramifications across all facets of life, from health care, as we saw during the pandemic, to employment, education and farming.”

Rusty Bentz is an Idaho outfitter and guide for steelhead and salmon, based in Lewiston.

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