High-speed Internet access improvement grant from state will help Columbia County

Columbia County is slated to receive nearly $70,000 in state funding to help expand the county's access to high speed Internet.

Business Oregon announced Tuesday that Gov. Kate Brown's office authorized the agency to use $500,000 from the state's Strategic Reserve Fund for a pilot grant program "to advance rural broadband development."

"Bridging the digital divide is an integral part of growing our rural economies and creating a Future Ready Oregon," Brown stated in a news release.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County is set to receive a $68,000 grant to help improve access to broadband Internet. According to Business Oregon, a 2016 broadband progress report indicates 39 percent of rural Americans lack basic access to high speed Internet, versus only 4 percent of Americans in urban areas. The $500,000 in grant money

was set aside to address that gap.

Columbia County is set to receive $68,300, which will

help the county evaluate its needs.

Karen Kane, the county's public relations officer, said the county's IT manager is hoping to use funds to develop plans that address where the county needs the most improvement.

"We requested $70,000 for consulting assistance to do a feasibility study and strategic plan to determine what our needs were and how we might address them," Columbia County Commissioner Margaret Magruder said.

The funds won't cover any development or infrastructure costs, but rather would allow the county to "assess its broadband needs, infrastructure, vendor resources, and strategic options including a county-wide fiber ring to provide high-speed Internet services to residents, businesses, anchor institutions and emergency services throughout the county," Business Oregon stated in the release.

"Cultivating economic stability in rural Oregon is a key priority for us, and identified as such in our agency's strategic plan," Chris Harder, executive director of Business Oregon, stated. "Broadband access is critical to both advancing existing rural industries, as well as diverse economic growth."

Columbia County was one of seven areas throughout the state selected to receive funds after applying in February. Municipalities and utility agencies in Coos, Harney, and Tillamook counties were also awarded, along with the cities of Boardman, Glendale, and Baker City. In all, 25 applications were submitted to Business Oregon, totaling more than $4.8 million in funding requests.

Funding will be contingent on negotiation between Columbia County and Business Oregon, as well as contractual terms.

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