Capitol Update Series:
Developing high-speed internet connections in rural communities can expand business and economic opportunities, which is one reason Oregon Representative Lynn Findley authored House Bill 2455.
The measure would define development and expansion of broadband Internet as economic development for purposes of the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board. In 2017, the Legislature established the seven-member board, appointed by the governor, and appropriated $5 million from the general fund to the Oregon Business Development Department for the use of loans and grants.
The Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board awards grants and loans for investment in economic development, workforce enhancement, education, land use, and locating industrial sites and providing infrastructure to them. The board focuses on an area defined as within 20 miles of the Oregon border with Idaho and includes the cities of Ontario, Vale, Nyssa, Willowcreek, and Brogan.
In late 2018, when Gov. Kate Brown announced creation of the Oregon Broadband Office with a $1.1 million budget for the 2019-21 fiscal cycle, two of Oregon counties—Wheeler and Wallowa in the northeast corner of the state—had no access to high-speed Internet.
“The digital divide is very real in Eastern Oregon,” Findley said at the time. His measure would have helped bridge that divide.
Opposition to this concept comes from the idea that rural broadband should be done by raising new taxes on cell taxes statewide instead of using existing general fund revenue. Others have pointed to using federal grants to build rural broadband infrastructure.
HB 2455 and the alternative ideas remained unpassed when the Legislature adjourned June 30. One of the broadband ideas that did advance in the 2019 Legislature was HB 2173-A which created the Oregon Broadband Office within the Oregon Business Development Department. It also repealed the sunset on the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council and helped codify the Broadband Office created by the Governor last year. The idea behind HB 2455 is further the discussion, ideas and awareness of Oregon broadband needs.