By Miel Macassey
In this time of seclusion, the internet is more important than ever. We use it to order groceries, monitor health bulletins and educate our children. Most of us depend on one or two expensive and unresponsive private providers for connectivity if we can get any service at all. While the libraries and TBCC have graciously left their wifi open so people with portable devices can study or apply for emergency funds while self-isolating in their parking spaces, those reliant on library desktop computers for connectivity are now shut out completely.
Erin Skaar and Dave McCall have committed to bringing public broadband internet service to Tillamook County quickly and affordably in this time of need.
They understand that municipal broadband benefits the local economy enormously, in the short term by allowing people to start online businesses and apply for jobs, and in the long term by giving our children access to education and enrichment at home and not just at school and the library.
Erin and Dave also understand that it can be a vital part of finally getting 911 services along Highways 6, 26 and other dangerous roads.
Where broadband has been implemented, it has allowed local businesses to flourish and expand local economies. Even for those whose jobs are not directly related to the internet, the knock-on effects are considerable. According to https://i3connect.org/sessions/new a tool sponsored by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 51% of Tillamook census blocks have no access to wireline broadband. Their estimate of the annual economic benefit of supplying broadband to Tillamook County is $19,409,312.
A decade and a half at nearly twenty million dollars per year would have been a lot of viable jobs, good businesses and taxes for our impoverished public services.
Even before Coronavirus, literally the smartest thing a rural economy could do for its young people was to install a broadband network. It allows the youngsters of our beautiful county to compete with suburban kids whose parents run tech companies and hedge funds. The digital urban-rural divide is more stark than ever when we cannot travel easily. We need to treat internet connectivity like clean water and reliable electricity or risk falling so far behind that we will not catch up.
We have had the capacity to provide affordable, high-speed broadband to just about every household in this county since 2005, long before the economic crash. The public already own the fiber backbone through a partnership between the County, the Port, and the TPUD called http://tillamooklightwave.com.
While their website claims to be acting in the public interest and intends to extend to homes and smaller businesses, it is so moribund that they refer to Congressperson Hooley as still in office. Since 2005, it has served government and the largest businesses in the county and abandoned the rest of us to CenturyLink and Charter. These customers get not only higher-quality service, they get better rates because TLW is a public entity without either profit or shareholders.
Frankly, if the Commissioners had wanted us to have fast, affordable connectivity, they have had 15 years. While there has been some very recent whiffling about bringing in an unnamed private operator to take over the backbone we have already paid for with our taxes in exchange for a minimal version of broadband, even this is a response to critical activism from people who have little or no service at all. The incumbents don’t care about providing the best services for people, they are just trying to force through an election-year emergency deal that can lock our one valuable pipe into a private monopoly for decades to come. Now that we are in an emergency, they are flailing and reaching for their favorite tool, a secret deal with a no-bid contract. We need real leadership in this time of crisis, but they just give us nice words and empty promises.
We don’t need to give this essential resource away to a private monopoly because we already own it. Get connectivity to Tillamook now. Keep control local and public. We have waited long enough in Tillamook County to have an onramp to the information superhighway.
Vote Skaar. Vote McCall.