Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Oregon
Take Q-Life’s Survey For Equitable Internet Access In Wasco County
By Rodger Nichols
1 of the hallmarks of a public electric utility is that it works cooperatively with other agencies and entities—cities, counties, port districts, parks departments, school districts and community colleges.
1 of these partners—QualityLife Intergovernmental Agency—needs PUD customers’ help. Known informally as Q-Life, the agency seeks information through a survey.
Q-Life was founded in 2002 as a collaborative effort among public entities in The Dalles. It is a joint project of Wasco County and the city of The Dalles.
1 of the farsighted things the Bonneville Power Administration did early on was install robust, large-bandwidth fiber on the transmission lines connecting its facilities. 1 of those connection points is at the Big Eddy Substation just outside The Dalles.
Local officials saw this as an opportunity to connect with this high-speed data pipeline, and they built a 17.5-mile fiber-optic loop through The Dalles. The $1.8 million project was funded with federal grants and private financing, without a single dollar of city or county taxpayer funds.
An article on ScienceDirect.com says this effort was “… the 1st of its kind in community-led internet infrastructures to make internet access available, accessible and publicly owned—yielding sociotechnical affordances that later attracted the construction of Google’s flagship data center.”
The article notes the conventional perception of rural communities as peripheral recipients of digital infrastructural investment flowing from urban cores. In this case, the rural area took the lead in going after the connection.
Chris Sacca, 1 of the “guest sharks” on the ABC television program “Shark Tank” from 2015 through 2020, was at the time the chief legal counsel for Google. He spearheaded the project to build in The Dalles. In the book, “Tubes,” author Andrew Blum quotes Chris as saying, “It was visionary. This little town with no tax revenues had figured out that if you want to transform an economy from manufacturing to information, you’ve got to pull fiber.”
Northern Wasco County PUD contributed by allowing Q-Life to install fiber on PUD poles without charge.
The project was built in phases. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the completion of the 1st phase, which brought the connection from Big Eddy to Mid-Columbia Medical Center.
Phase 2 extended the connection to Columbia Gorge Community College. Stages 3 and 4 brought it to the Wasco County Courthouse, The Dalles City Hall and the Public Works Department. Stages 5 and 6 took the connection to Cherry Heights, out West 10th Street to Wahtonka and the Port of The Dalles.
In the digital age, access to high-speed internet has become essential in education, health care and economic activities.
Unfortunately, a digital divide leaves many rural areas, including Wasco County, behind the curve.
Q-Life’s mission is to facilitate access to scalable telecommunication infrastructure, effectively making affordable broadbandlevel internet access across Wasco County akin to a public utility. By pursuing this mission, Q-Life aims to bridge the digital divide that has long hindered progress in the region.
The most recent example was the completion of high-speed internet to Maupin.
How PUD Customers Can Help
Q-Life is conducting a comprehensive internet access survey in the county. The more data it can collect, the more accurate assessment it can make about the current status of broadband access in Wasco County.
Responses help Q-Life identify underserved areas, evaluate the affordability of internet services, and gain valuable insights into the specific needs of the community. Community members’ input can help create a more connected and inclusive Wasco County.
Use the QR reader on your smartphone to scan the QR code below, which will take you to the online survey.