One of the technological speed bumps that rural communities nationwide face is getting faster, usually fiber-optic, Internet service. But for Enterprise, the onramp to the Internet superhighway is only about 6 months away. EONI (Eastern Oregon Net Incorporated) will be offering fiber optic service to a growing number of its customers beginning in the spring, 2020. Service is planned initially for only about 20 blocks of downtown Enterprise, but will be expanded over time to include as much of the community as possible.
“We are just mapping out the areas and technical details right now,” said EONI spokesman Jeff Crews.
Enterprise librarian Denine Rautenstrauch discovered the arrival of fiber optic Internet by serendipity. She faced a dilemma. As part of the Sage library system—a group of 75 public and college libraries in eastern Oregon, the Enterprise Public Library had to upgrade to a new online system that would coordinate her circulation, interlibrary loans, and connections with other libraries in the system. But her Internet service seemed to be too slow to handle the new tasks. “It just couldn’t provide the speed—the amount of data—that I needed to operate efficiently,” she said. “And I thought we had maxed out the capacity, so that was that.”
Not one to give up hope, Rautenstrauch contacted EONI, which the library had used for almost 20 years. Was there any way at all to get faster service?
There was: a fiber optic cable that runs right in front of the century-old Carnegie-built Enterprise Public library.
EONI laid that particular fiber optics cable about five years ago as part of providing a fast connection between the Enterprise schools and the Wallowa County Education Service District in downtown Enterprise.
“When we did that project, we ran fiber optic line through downtown, Crews said. “At the time that was all we did with it.”
Now that relatively short strip of underground cable is becoming part of the new pilot service planned for downtown.
Of course, a fiber optics cable doesn’t do any good by itself. It has to be connected to the rest of the web. “Our fiber optics comes from Frontier, and we are leasing data transport from Frontier,” Crews said. “Frontier already has had fiber optics from Joseph to Enterprise to Lostine and Wallowa and down to Elgin for many years. It replaced the old microwave system that bounced off Howard Butte and could go all the way to La Grande. Fiber optics provides much greater bandwidth. EONI leases bandwidth and service on the Frontier system.
“Our wireless network has improved, but wireless is the interim, it’s not the end-game for us,” Crews said. “The future is fiber optics.”
Fiber optic cables transport data through glass threads about the diameter of a human hair at close to the speed of light. Today, multiple wavelengths can each carry data, allowing up to about 2,000 separate data streams to operate simultaneously. The big, thick protective cable that appears to be most of a fiber optics conduit is really only a casing to protecting that thin glass fiber with armor and protection. The tiny glass fiber that does all the work can bend but it doesn’t kink very well.
The library isn’t the only place in Enterprise at the front of the line for super-fast Internet. “While they were installing fiber optics for the library,” Rautenstrauch said, “Lisa Dawson of Northeastern Oregon Economic Development came out of the basement and said ‘Hey, what’s that?’ She wanted faster Internet too. “And so, of course EONI provided the connection. The cost for the library and NEOEDD’s speedy fiber optic service, Crews said, will be essentially what they are paying for their connection now.
Although fiber optic cable is definitely high tech, the first 20 blocks of service in Enterprise will be rigged the old-fashioned way—on existing utility poles above the ground. “Its much more cost-effective,” Crews said. “Downtown areas that have poles, with a utilities on them require substantially less digging.”
Once the first 20-block area is installed, EONI plans to expand its service area further, especially into residential areas. “We can build where we have dense clusters of customers,” Crews said. “We call them ‘fiberhoods’. We’ll be using door hangers and direct mail to alert residents to its availability. It will not be a secret when it’s available in your neighborhood.”