The city of Banks announced that Kirkland, Wash.-based telecom company Ziply Fiber will begin building a new fiber-optic network along Main Street between Sunset Avenue and Wilkes Street on April 12 or 13.
The city sent out an email on April 6 announcing that construction will take place between 7:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
In a March 31 press release, Ziply Fiber said the company plans to “invest more than $500 million” to build an all-fiber-optic network in suburban and rural communities in the Northwest. The company also has projects in Washington and Idaho, as well as California.
In 2020, Ziply acquired the network of Frontier Communications, an internet service provider (ISP) whose poor service and constant connectivity issues proved a constant source of frustration for rural residents in western Washington County, especially in the early days of Covid lockdowns when students en masse began distance learning.
Banks City Manager Jolynn Becker said discussions with Ziply to provide broadband within the city limits have been ongoing for the last couple of years
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“Rural areas (in western Washington County) need a lot of work,” Becker said. “There’s very little ‘good internet’ compared to larger urban areas.”
A quick refresher in internet terminology
On August 6, 1991, the World Wide Web opened to the public, and in 1993, America Online, or AOL, began mailing compact discs to residential addresses that contained the software needed to connect to the internet.
Back then, internet connections occurred along copper telephone lines, many of which had been built in the first quarter of the 20th century and were owned almost exclusively by AT&T. The 1996 Telecommunications Act forced Ma Bell — AT&T’s nickname — to allow competitors to provide service over its telephone lines, and the race to get inside the U.S. consumer’s home was on.
In 2022, there are several types of internet connections available in western Washington County. Dial-up, believe it or not, still is used in rural areas here, but broadband provides the high-speed connection rural residents want but too often don’t get.
According to the Federal Communications Commision, broadband means high-speed internet access of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload or faster. Several types of broadband connections, and even more internet service providers, deliver high-speed internet to homes, businesses, and cell phones, including DSL (digital-subscriber line), cable modems, wireless (a.k.a. Wi-Fi), satellite, broadband over powerlines, and fiber.
Fiber optics provide the fastest connectivity, with speeds reaching 1-gigabyte or greater, transmitting the information that flows across the internet by pulsing light across thin, flexible pieces of glass as opposed to sending those signals through coaxial cables, like those that connect televisions to cable TV boxes, or old-fashioned copper telephone lines.
The so-called Digital Divide is a description separating those with access to high-speed internet from those who don’t have it.
Washington County focuses on rural broadband connectivity
Becker said Washington County hired a broadband consultant to review the needs of rural residents and to make high-speed connectivity equitable in rural and nonrural areas.
An April 5 letter signed by Washington County Board of Commissioners Chair Kathryn Harrington, responding to the City of Beaverton’s request for congressionally-directed funds for a broadband feasibility study, indicates internet connectivity is a priority for the board.
“Broadband has proved to be essential to accessing health care, education, government services, and business opportunities,” Harrington wrote. “To increase resilience and breakdown barriers to access, equal, open and affordable broadband is vital to everyone.”
Coming out of the 2022 Oregon Legislature short session, Gov. Kate Brown signed into law HB 4092, establishing the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council (BAC) within the Oregon Business Development Department. Board members, who will not be compensated, are appointed by the governor and will include one representative from each of Oregon’s 36 counties, the text of the bill says.
The BAC is tasked with developing a “broadband action plan and digital equity plan” to address the availability and affordability of high-speed internet throughout Oregon.
Nationally, the federal government has made steps toward expanding high-speed internet access. President Joe Biden in November 2021 also signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which included $65 billion for broadband expansion nationwide.
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagen also recently traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss rural broadband connectivity where she highlighted a study that found residents in Jackson and Josephine counties regularly connect to the internet at download speeds averaging 27.8 Mbps and have considered moving because of it. By comparison, statewide connectivity speeds average more than 100 Mbps