Grant County residents could see internet speeds three- to 20-times faster in the near future.

The city of John Day plans to leverage recently received state funding on additional grants to construct a fiber optic line from Burns to John Day and to deliver access to residents throughout the county, boosting capacity and data transmission speeds.

John Day City Manager Nick Green said the average download speed in the county is about 10 megabits per second, though some areas are worse. He said he expects 30 megabits or faster from the new network. Fiber optic access is currently available to some businesses in the county, Green said, but is not a viable option for residents.

Residents could have fiber optic access as early as next summer, he said, though services will be entirely optional.

Green said better internet access could bring new jobs to the area, not only to help run the service, but by removing a barrier for digital commuters who need high-speed internet to work from home.

The scope of the project is still being determined, but Green said every community, with the possible exception of Granite, could be serviced by the new network.

“Our goal is to address the entire county’s needs, but we will start with the urban corridor,” he said.

The city received $1.82 million in state funding — enough to construct the 75-mile fiber line from Burns — and plans to form an interagency coalition to own and manage the cable. The Grant County Digital Coalition will consist of representatives from the county and other cities interested in accessing the fiber optic line.

The state funding will be used as matching funds for grants, including a United States Department of Agriculture rural development grant, to develop the infrastructure for residents to tap into the high-speed network, Green said. A hybrid network, which would provide a blanket of internet access without laying fiber optic line to every home, is being considered.

The coalition would have to determine whether to operate as a public utility company, providing internet access directly to customers, or to lease access to the new network to other internet providers. Green said there were pros and cons to both, and the risks and rewards would be weighed in the coming months.

DeLinda Kluser, general manager at Oregon Telephone Corporation, said the company wants what is best for the people and businesses of Grant County. She said Oregon Telephone is willing to work with the city and lend its local expertise and experience with fiber optic technology.

The Grant County Internet Task Force — a group of representatives from the private sector, city, county and Grant School District — has been working toward securing better internet for residents. The task force will be disbanded upon the creation of the coalition.

State Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day helped secure the funding through an amendment to a House appropriations bill. He said it would help erase the barrier of time and distance faced by those working in rural Oregon. Ferrioli said access to affordable high-speed internet is needed to transition communities like John Day into what he called “the new West.”

“It could turn out to be the key piece to attracting a few new employers and growing local businesses,” he said.

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