County leaning on Congress for better internet access
Crook County leaders are offering an official show of support in developing more high-speed internet connectivity to local rural residents.
The County Court recently approved a letter to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who represents the county as part of Oregon's Second Congressional District, requesting improved internet infrastructure in rural communities throughout the district.
"While Oregon has made progress in addressing the digital divide, more must be done in order to bring high-speed internet access to the rural communities in your district, the state and the country," the letter states. "To that end, we hope that you will encourage policies that will promote the development of new broadband technologies that will increase access to, and the affordability of high-speed internet in rural Oregon."
County Judge Seth Crawford stressed that Walden has already been very supportive of efforts to improve rural internet infrastructure in recent years.
"We are just affirming that Crook County is behind him in trying to promote connectivity in rural Oregon," Crawford said. "The more infrastructure we have out here, the more it will help all of those different groups of citizens."
Walden has heard about this during town hall forums in Crook County, and Crawford said he has heard people talk about it regularly as well, especially if they live a great distance from Prineville.
In its letter, the County Court listed a variety of groups that need better broadband service. They include traded sector businesses of any size, government entities, schools that want to utilize digital course content and distance learning resources, libraries, health care providers, fire responders, and power utilities that wish to deploy smart grid features and enable energy management functions and services.
County leaders suggested in their letter that Walden and other members of Congress consider utilization of the TV white space spectrum for broadband deployment.
"TV white space technology reaches much further than existing LTE wireless and operates at a frequency that can move through objects like hills and foliage," they wrote. "It's estimated that broadband internet served on the white space spectrum could reach about 80 percent of the rural population that lacks high-speed internet access today."
Commissioners went on to note that the white space technology uses existing infrastructure, so the cost barriers to deploy broadband that way in conjunction with other technologies like satellite are much lower than other traditional methods.
"Studies suggest that TV white space is roughly 80 percent less than the cost of using fiber cables alone," they said, "and it is over 50 percent cheaper than the cost of current fixed wireless technology like 4G."
Crawford said that information about the white space technology was provided through work with the Association of Oregon Counties. And while use of it might offer a more effective and cheaper way to provide internet connectivity in rural communities, some changes will need to occur at the federal level to make it a viable option.
"It will be important for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that three channels below 700MHz are available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country, with additional TV white spaces available in smaller markets and rural areas," the County Court stated. "The FCC has already helped advance white space technology by issuing orders over the last decade that set the stage for its introduction and development. Now that the technology has matured, the FCC should finalize the permanent policies that will be necessary to ensure that white space can be used at a commercial scale."