Broadband is a term best known to those who enjoy it, or want it, and it is currently on the minds of many in Maupin.

The term describes faster Internet access. And there are a few businesses on the main street in Maupin who are enjoying it. The provider is Lightspeed Networks, also known as LS Networks. Those who were able to connect had options of 100 or 1000 Mbps. That is really fast broadband, well beyond anything ever available before in Maupin.

Those enjoying it have not kept quiet, and many who want it are asking “when can I have it?”

The question is directed at Q-Life Network, the intergovernmental agency operated by Wasco County and the City of The Dalles. Why?

The QualityLife Intergovernmental Agency, now doing business as Q-Life Network, was formed in 2001 “to promote economic and community development within Wasco County and the Mid-Columbia Gorge community through the development of telecommunications infrastructure and related programs.”

That initiative, after the completion of a fiber optic loop around The Dalles, paid off when Project 02, now known as Google, decided to build its first data center here. The agency, which has never had employees, works through contractors. Loans that made the project possible were retired early, and it has been revenue positive under a five- member board of directors for several years. The administrator for the Agency is Tyler Stone, also administrative officer for Wasco County and chair of Oregon Chapter of County Administrators for the National Association of Counties.

Broadband brought substantial benefits to The Dalles, and the board discussed extending into south Wasco County. A study done by the Mid-Columbia Economic Develop District (with funding provided by Google) disclosed strong interest there. Maupin Mayor Frank Kay provided strong leadership, which has continued under current Mayor Lynn Ewing.

The North Central Regional Solutions Advisory Committee adopted broadband as a funding priority for Wasco and Sherman counties and the 2016 Oregon legislature authorized lottery bond funding in the amounts of $410,000 for Wasco and $820,000 for Sherman to invest in broadband infrastructure.

Serious planning for the Maupin project then began, on a public/private partnership basis with Gorge Networks, who was already providing service in Maupin, and LS Networks who needed to bring fiber from the Bonneville Power Administration towers into Maupin in order to connect to some cell phone companies and the school.

System design was completed and the board advertised for construction bids.

Unfortunately, bids came in well above available funding and had to be rejected. LS Networks had commitments they had to keep, so they went ahead with bringing the fiber into Maupin and connecting it to a hut (called a Point of Presence, or POP) on land leased from the city. From there they ran fiber to the cell tower above the city and connected to the South Wasco school site to fulfill their commitments to their customers.

In getting fiber to the POP, they went right up Deschutes Avenue, Maupin’s main street, and past several businesses very anxious for broadband service.

Although Q-Life has to qualify with the Federal Communications Commission as a CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier), it is not a telephone or cable company that provides services to homes and businesses. It leaves that work to private sector providers, such as Gorge Networks, CenturyLink, Charter, Spectrum, and lately, LS Networks. We refer to them as “last-mile” providers.

LS Networks has connected about 16 businesses, paying $60 per month for 100 Mbps service, or $90 per month if they need to reach 1 Gbps speeds. Here is a link with details: www.lsnetworks.net/maupin

Gorge Networks is also competing for connections in Maupin. Here is a link showing its services and pricing: www.gorge.net/maupin.

Customers of LS Networks and Gorge Networks seem very pleased with their new service connections.

Q-Life will soon be advertising for bids on additional parts of the Maupin service, but completion of the “middle-mile” plans must await the availability of more funding.

It is working with Mid-Columbia Economic Development District to provide further help in finding that funding, and conversations with Oregon legislators began some time ago. In an effort to reduce costs the City of Maupin Public Works Department will install as much of the underground infrastructure as possible.

Several broadband initiatives have recently been announced in Washington, D.C., to help close the digital divide, and those are being closely followed.

Why is it necessary to have public involvement in broadband?

In many parts of the country, it is not. It is necessary in sparsely populated places, because if a private sector provider can’t make a project “pencil,” or provide a profit, it won’t happen.

That fact is what led to creation of Q-Life, and to having Google locate in The Dalles and Wasco County. The public funding portion makes a project possible, and with the public/private partnership model of the QualityLife Intergovernmental Agency, the community and its telecommunications providers, and consumers, can enjoy the substantial benefits of broadband. Maupin will offer a model other rural communities will want to duplicate.

Maupin is not likely to keep it quiet, once all there can be connected.

— Keith Mobley has a law office located in Dufur and represents private clients and public agencies.

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