Oregon Communities Continue Slow-Speed Pursuit of High-Speed Internet

Dissatisfaction with privately run Internet prompted Hillsboro and Multnomah County to investigate other alternatives, namely government-run options, but gaining traction has been slow.

(TNS) — Hillsboro and Multnomah County continue to explore the possibility of establishing their own, publicly run Internet service — but neither initiative is moving rapidly.

The initiatives reflect widespread dissatisfaction with privately run Internet services and suspicions that federal repeal of Obama-era “net neutrality” rules will prompt Internet providers to restrict access or slow connections to some websites and online services.

However, there are few large-scale municipal Internet services anywhere in the country. It’s more common in small communities, including Ashland, Independence, Monmouth and Sandy — but the results have been mixed, creating significant financial setbacks in some places.

Lake Oswego voters rejected a city-backed Internet service
in 2016.

Hillsboro announced last May that it planned to spend $24 million over six years to begin running high-capacity fiber-optic lines to neighborhoods around the city. Officials said they hoped to offer superfast “gigabit” speeds (a gigabit is 1,000 megabits per second) for $50 a month, below private-sector pricing.

The city initially said it hoped to have service available in some neighborhoods by spring 2019. Hillsboro now has decided to focus on wiring local schools first, aiming to have all 47 schools wired by the start of the academic year in September.

Hillsboro’s existing fiber network is between 12 and 13 miles, according to the city, which says it plans to add 60 miles this year. Some residential service could be available by year’s end, but in a statement the city said it will “keep a flexible timetable.”

Multnomah County, meanwhile, is still preparing to study the possibility of countywide municipal fiber. It would be the largest network of its kind in the United States with a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The first step is a feasibility study, but seven months after the county announced plans to evaluate public Internet that work still hasn’t been funded. Commissioner Sharon Meieran said the county wants participation from a number of local governments.

“We’re going to be acting as the convener for a group of local, jurisdictional parties,” she said.

Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village have all agreed to contribute to the $250,000 study, according to Meieran.

Multnomah County will provide most of the funding, $150,000, she said, but the county wants $75,000 from the city of Portland, too. Meieran said Portland was initially receptive to the request but has been unresponsive lately.

“I’m hopeful we will hear back from them soon as far as taking the next steps,” Meieran said. “It really is the only thing holding us up.”

©2019 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.