The Census data shows that cities like Portland still have a sweeping advantage over rural parts of the state when it comes to access to fast, reliable connectivity.
(TNS) — Portland residents enjoy some of the nation’s fastest Internet speeds, but newly released Census data shows rural parts of the state continue to lag way behind.
In some communities, fewer than half of the homes have fast Internet service.
“With the rural markets the state doesn’t do well – or as well,” said Joe Franell, chief executive of Eastern Oregon Telecom, a small Hermiston company serving residents and businesses in seven communities along the Columbia River.
Superfast fiber-optic connections are delivering high-definition Netflix movies and video games across the Portland area, where most homes can choose between two or more superfast providers. Within a few years, robust “5G” connections may provide another, wireless option.
But it’s expensive to build these networks, especially in remote, lightly populated areas. So Franell, who also serves on the state’s Broadband Advisory Council, said whole communities have to patch together their Internet access with nearly obsolete technologies.
“In many parts of the state they’re still connected with copper or microwaves,” he said.
Overall, the Census found 87 percent of Oregon households were broadband subscribers in 2017. That’s up from 78 percent just five years earlier, and above the national figure of 84 percent.
The Portland area is especially well connected, at particularly fast speeds. The Census finds up to 98 percent of homes have broadband access in some areas.
A separate report out Wednesday from the company that runs Speedtest.net finds an average connection speed of 110 megabits per second among Portland consumers who check their speeds. That’s far above the federal broadband standard, 25 Mbps, and higher than the national average of 96 Mbps.
That’s plenty fast for online video, gaming and even for data-intensive professions like architecture and engineering.
It’s quite a different story in some parts of east Multnomah County, where as many as 25 percent of households have no Internet access at all. The divide is even greater in rural communities such as Lake, Jefferson -- and also parts of Clackamas County -- where broadband penetration hovers around 50 percent.
“Small cities are under pressure,” said Christopher Tamarin, telecommunications strategist for the Oregon Business Development Department.
Businesses are at a disadvantage when they don’t have the online access competitors do in larger, better-connected communities. And Tamarin said rural communities suffer a population drain when young people leave for education, and seniors leave in search of health care, then don’t return.
There are signs broadband’s reach may be expanding. State and federal agencies are pushing for more fiber deployment into rural areas and advancing technologies – including satellite-based Internet – are improving connection speeds. And though the new 5G wireless technology has a narrow range, too narrow for far-flung rural areas, Tamarin said it will lead to greater fiber deployment to connect wireless sites to the broader Internet.
“I feel like we are reaching a tipping point,” he said.
Staff writer Elliot Njus contributed to this article.
©2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.). Tribune Content Agency, LLC.