Jefferson County awarded $140K federal broadband assist

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) — Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said Friday that Jefferson County will receive $140,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help boost broadband access and speed in the county.

“Improved broadband for rural Oregon is as crucial to good infrastructure now as electrification once was decades back for rural America,” said Wyden, who also is urging the FCC to make rural broadband a priority. “This federal investment from the COVID relief package to build better broadband for Jefferson County will help Central Oregon to strengthen links for residents to jobs, schools, telehealth and more.

“I hear often in my virtual town halls in rural Oregon counties about how rural broadband must be a top priority, and I’ll keep battling to support stronger broadband connections for communities throughout Oregon.”

“Broadband access is essential 21st century infrastructure that Oregonians need to work, study, and stay connected and healthy,” said Merkley. “I’m pleased that this funding is headed to Jefferson County, where it will help us ensure that every Oregonian has the foundation they need to thrive. I will continue to do all that I can – including through my work on the Senate Appropriations Committee – to ensure that broadband access is expanded in every corner of our state.”

The federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) resources are from the CARES Act, which Wyden and Merkley voted to pass in 2020.

The EDA said its investment supports the development of a robust broadband feasibility plan to assess the gaps, inventory, obstacles, and potential for increasing rural broadband in Jefferson County.  The project will help boost access and broadband speed by engaging with a consultant to conduct a plan and assessment to help increase business innovation, boost productivity, and create more jobs. 

Once implemented, the plan will help establish the analytical foundation for critical broadband infrastructure development in the area and help guide local leaders and stakeholders as they make the region more resilient to future economic shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are thankful to receive this EDA investment opportunity,” said Kelly Simmelink, chair of the Jefferson County Commission. “We are grateful for the help of Senators Wyden and Merkley in helping our small rural county be able to take the first step towards bettering broadband availability for all citizens of Jefferson County.”

“The City of Madras and Jefferson County have long struggled with broadband services that affect all sectors of our economy,” said Nicholas Snead, Community Development Director for the City of Madras. “The EDA grant funding will allow Jefferson County and the City of Madras to develop a cost-effective broadband plan for all of Jefferson County. This funding will be transformational and we very much appreciate the support and assistance from Senators Wyden and Merkley.”