Linn County works on rural Internet speeds

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Linn County IT Director Steve Braaten wants rural residents to take advantage of a federal infrastructure bill and several grant opportunities to provide faster Internet through fiber optics for long-distance and high-performance data networking.
All they have to do is visit FasterInternetOregon.org using their home’s Internet service, enter their physical addresses and click “Test My Speed.”
The test takes less than a minute, and its information is then mapped in a database for Linn County that identifies homes without high-speed Internet. (Those residents can use public computers or their smartphones to access the site and determine why.) Using that data, the county can prove its need for fiber optics.
On Nov. 6, 2021, Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which in part proposed to expand broadband services to U.S. homes and businesses. According to a White House statement, Oregon was to receive at least $100 million to increase coverage across the state, providing Internet access to the nearly 140,000 residents without it.
Late last month, Braaten asked Linn County commissioners to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the Cascades West Council of Governments, in conjunction with Lincoln and Benton counties, to explore broadband options that would greatly increase area Internet speeds.
“As many people in Linn County we can have do this, the more beneficial it will be and the more we can prove there’s a need within Linn County,” he said. “This is a huge competition right now in the United States, and even within Oregon and its counties because Oregon was assigned a certain amount of money and of that certain amount of money, everyone is vying for those funds. I’m pushing as hard as I can to make sure Linn County gets every dollar we can get to put toward broadband improvements.”
He’s particularly interested in targeting the Sweet Home area for the test to help the community become eligible for a set of grant opportunities. FasterInternetOregon.org data will be collected for another few months before the county begins applying for the money.
“If we don’t have the test results, it’s going to be very difficult for us to prove that locations (like Lacomb, Sodaville, Sweet Home, Brownsville, etc.) need something like that,” he said.
Broadband usage spiked during the pandemic as individuals worked from home through video-conferencing and streamed educational classes and lessons for children, Braaten said.
“What we saw with cable and DSL (digital subscriber line) customers was that when they were connected, there was a struggle for multiple people to be video-conferencing simultaneously,” he said. “It really highlighted the needs of the United States on how far behind we are with meeting broadband needs.”
Since then, Linn County staff has been talking about the need for better broadband, and now there’s an opportunity to fund it.
“We’ve always talked about this, and now we’re actually going to have actions, we’re going to have results, and the people of Linn County deserve that,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time for Linn County and broadband, and the future looks great.”