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The city is partnering with Strategic Networks Group to give better internet service to residents and businesses.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF ST. HELENS - A view of the St. Helens Public Library's public computer area (pre-pandemic).St. Helens is seeking citizen input in boosting internet service within the city.

City officials announced last week they are partnering with Strategic Networks Group to explore options for how to bring a high-quality, low-cost internet service to the city as a public-private partnership.

Officials say the fiber-optic network would provide end-to-end residential and business coverage to everyone in St. Helens.

Residents, businesses and organizations are being asked to offer input in the form of online questionnaires, or "checkups." City officials say they will incorporate that feedback into their planning and decision-making for a possible citywide internet service.

Currently, CenturyLink and Comcast serve St. Helens residents and businesses, noted Matt Brown, assistant city administrator.

"We know that there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the area around the type of service and speeds that are available to our community," he said.

Brown continued, "This is a unique opportunity of working with Strategic Networks Group that helps partner public agencies with private investments. The goal of this survey is to build an economic case to see if it's viable for the city to go into a public-private partnership and basically create a new utility — a broadband utility."

While it's still far from commonplace, there is precedent in Oregon for cities providing internet service as a utility.

Hillsboro, which is about eight times the size of St. Helens by population, first rolled out HiLight, a high-speed internet service for residents, late last year. Hillsboro officials plan to ultimately expand HiLight to serve the entire city.

In St. Helens, Brown is hoping the city can make an economic case for a broadband utility as well.

He envisions something like this: In partnership with the city government, private investment would come in and help fund the infrastructure. A private group would operate it, again in partnership with the city, for a certain amount of time. Eventually, once the service is well-established and local officials are comfortable with it, St. Helens would take out a revenue bond to actually purchase the entire utility.

"Then the community has an asset for its future," Brown concluded.

Brown thinks the move toward municipal internet service could improve access while also providing healthy competition for CenturyLink and Comcast.

"Usually, that entices Comcast and other companies to improve their service in the area," Brown added.

The survey can be found on the city website.

To encourage citizen input, St. Helens is offering a drawing for a $100 credit toward city utility bills for individuals who complete the survey. One winner will be selected for the eHousehold Checkup and one winner for the eBusiness Checkup questionnaires.

The survey will remain open until Friday, Dec. 3.


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