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Oregon Lawmakers Push For TV White Spaces in Broadband Expansion

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The internet has been around for several decades now, but there are still large, rural areas that don’t have sufficient coverage.
Christopher Tamarin is a broadband specialist with the Oregon Business Development Department, which has been working to expand broadband in Oregon. He says about 15 percent of Oregonians lack a high-speed connection. 

“The digital divide continues to exist and I think it’s one of the most important public policy challenges facing Oregon and the nation,” Tamarin told JPR's Jefferson Exchange.


The biggest problem is population density. If there aren’t enough customers in an area, a company is less inclined to roll out expensive fiber optic cables.


But there is a potential solution on the horizon: TV white spaces. That’s another name for unused TV channels. Now companies can use those channels to connect people to the internet.

A group called Connect Americans Now is spearheading efforts to make establishing internet connections through white spaces easier. It wrote a letter to Congress urging the federal government to ensure these channels are available for broadband service so companies can begin using them. Oregon state lawmakers rallied behind the letter; 57 of them signed it.

“There are a number of leaders in Oregon who are dedicated to rural broadband because it’s a state that truly understands both sides of the spectrum,” Connect Americans Now spokesman Zachary Cikanek told the Exchange. “From making sure that rural communities are taken care of to attracting high tech business.”


Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has also been pushing Congress to increase funding for broadband expansion in rural areas. 


April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.