Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, announced Wednesday that she will introduce legislation to raise an expected federal $200 million to expand internet services to underserved communities in Oregon.
“The internet is now our portal to business opportunities, education, healthcare, news, church services, emergency response and more,” Marsh said.
Currently filed as LC 236, the bill directs the Oregon Broadband Office to prepare to deploy broadband infrastructure with a framework for state and federal investments, data collection to develop maps of coverage and identify gaps, and support for libraries to maximize federal funding for broadband projects. , according to a press release.
The bill grants the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council new authority to work with the Broadband Office, provide recommendations for implementing the goals and create grant review committees.
“Oregon is poised to receive more than $200 million to invest in building American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act services,” the statement said. “[LC 236] will translate a once-in-a-generation capital investment into affordable Internet service for rural and marginalized communities in Oregon.
Ensuring access to the range of resources only available through broadband supports equity, Marsh said in the statement.
Prior to the pandemic, a statewide broadband assessment and best practices study by Strategic Networks Group found that the state faced a “rural-urban digital divide” and gaps in quality of service because some parts of the state are not ready for digital infrastructure, which is made even more difficult by geography.
“Areas with low population density and difficult terrain still remain underserved or even unconnected,” according to the study released January 31, 2020. “Much of Oregon’s geography in urban areas is well served By terrestrial broadband, however, there are areas that have less coverage.Looking at these areas, declining household income is a factor.
At the time, around 1.2 million people lived in unconnected or underserved areas, or with older technology providing basic broadband, suggesting that around 28% of the population of State had no access to “Future Ready” services, according to the study – manifesting only quality, speed and reliability issues.
A November 2020 report by the advisory board defined broadband as the “lifesaver” of economic development, and telecommunications as a key part of the state’s strategic response to the pandemic as part of the national direction to avoid any contact with others, resulting in a dramatic increase in traffic on carrier networks.
“Businesses and industries need it to run their business and empower their employees,” the report said. “If robust broadband is not available, businesses will migrate to where it is available.”
Marsh said that because the pandemic has shifted many essential activities such as employment, education and health services to the internet, inadequate or absent broadband has presented a “double disaster” for many Oregonians. facing a deadly disease and a rapidly changing environment.
The bill requires the Public Utilities Commission to study the state’s telecommunications assistance program — funded by a residential service surcharge on telephone services — to assess whether the program should apply broadband subsidies to residents low-income status and submit a report by June 1, 2023. .
Federal stimulus programs present a “rare opportunity to open doors for all Oregonians,” Marsh said, if the timelines associated with the allocation are met.
Contact reporter Allayana Darrow at [email protected] or 541-776-4497.