I came to Wallowa County 20 years ago as a new-economy telecommuter needing broadband Internet to pursue my graphic design trade. I am still waiting for it.
Throughout the decades, I have made countless inquiries, been part of a county telecommunications committee, pleaded with all levels of county government, as well as Verizon, Frontier, EONI, WVN, Dishnet and other providers, with no significant bump in speed to show for it.
I live only two miles from Joseph. But I live in the woods. No one in the past 20 years has developed or deployed any technology that can deliver a wireless broadband signal through these trees, and no fiber provider will dig a trench to my door nor hang a cable through the trees. Broadband satellite service is too expensive and unreliable (tried it).
Despite my proximity to a few-years-old fiber-optic line now less than a mile away at the Joseph Airport, I still currently run my business over a DSL connection through a copper phone line to an antique switch in Frontier’s (formerly Verizon’s) Joseph phone closet.
Because Frontier will not connect me to that nearby fiber line, I must use a 25-year-old technology, which provides me with 1.4 megabits per second, bumped up from 900 Kbps just last week. It is still 96 percent slower than the Oregon average of 33.6 Mbps, according to Broadbandnow.com.
I am not alone in the valley in this skinnyband condition. The county has not been helpful. A now-retired county commissioner early in the 2000s told me that the county was, in true rural conservative tradition, not in favor of any government assistance in this matter preferring to “let market forces sort it out.”
You can see where that has gotten us. Like the income gap in America, the Digital Divide has only gotten wider all across the U.S. and more unequally distributed. Is it fair distribution of technology when Imnaha River Woods with its few forest-bound residents has access to fiber broadband while a neighborhood of 30 homes next to Joseph Airport is denied access?
I am too jaded now to be optimistic that the current commissioners and providers will suddenly work earnestly with a new state initiative that might provide this “last mile” technology to users like myself. But hope springs digital, and I hope to be pleasantly surprised someday when I see a ditch-witch digging a fiber trench down my driveway.
If I live that long.