In the community

Big federal grant slated to boost fiber optic access for rural areas of the county

VALE – Residents and schools in far-flung areas of Malheur County are on track to receive high-speed fiber optic internet after the approval of a $20.4 million grant and loan package announced last week.
The money, funneled through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development arm, will fund extending service to 1,200 people, 41 businesses, 70 farms and four educational centers in Baker, Grant and Malheur counties.
The funding was awarded to the Oregon Telephone Corp. based in Mount Vernon.
“It will be all new fiber that is multi-gig capable,” said Marcus Bott, company vice president of operations.
Bott said the company will add or upgrade fiber-optic networks in Harper, Juntura, Westfall, Willowcreek around Brogan and Unity.
“We are pretty excited,” said Bott.
Now, said Bott, there are fiber-optic lines to Juntura and Harper.
“This will allow us to upgrade those communities and students will also have high-speed internet available in their homes,” said Bott.
While the money is on the way, the project won’t happen overnight, said Bott.
“We have been awarded a grant similar to this in the past and it had to go through approvals and it took two years,” said Bott.
Bott said agencies from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to the U.S. Forest Service must sign off on the project before a single trench is dug.
“There is the potential it could go faster or go slower. There are a lot of moving parts and government agencies involved in that,” he said.
The approvals, he said, are needed to ensure there are no environmental impacts from the project.
Bott said half of the $20.4 million is in the form of a grant and the rest will be in low interest loans.
“For too long, rural communities have been left out of the digital economy, but the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to investing in rural infrastructure and affordable high-speed internet for all. Our goal is to make sure that no student has to sit in a parking lot to finish schoolwork, no entrepreneur misses out on new markets. When Eastern Oregon prospers, we all prosper,” according to Margi Hoffmann, Oregon director of the federal Rural Development agency.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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