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New Legislation Would Address ‘Internet Deserts’ In Oregon

Brett Sayles via Pexels

Southern Oregon state Representative Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, is proposing legislation in the upcoming session to increase funding for broadband internet in areas she describes as rural “internet deserts.”

An estimated 400,000 Oregonians lack adequate internet, according to Marsh, including school districts and public libraries. To increase connectivity, she’s proposing the Rural Telecommunications Investment Act. The bill would expand an existing telecom surcharge, currently reserved for landline users, to also include cell phone and voice-over-internet users.

The result would be a “Broadband Fund” to expand internet access in rural Oregon.

“What we know is that the internet touches every aspect of our lives anymore,” Marsh says. “It’s the way we do business, it’s the way we communicate with each other, it’s the way we organize politically and within our communities.”

The resulting broadband fund could be used to bolster telehealth services, and industries that increasingly rely on technology like agriculture and forestry, according to Marsh.

“We know that technology and the availability of technology is what helps communities survive. This is a survival issue for our most frontier communities,” she says.   

The broadband fund would be capped at $5 million per year. Marsh says users would get billed at around four dollars each year.

The proposed funds would be distributed as grants and loans, and would be used to create cash matching programs to get more federal money to improve internet connections in schools.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.