Public-owned broadband study nears completion


By Noah Wass

Last October, Multnomah County and its five resident jurisdictions (Portland, Wood Village, Gresham, Troutdale, and Fairview) agreed to fund a study of the costs and benefits of providing a publicly owned high-speed broadband network for all of Multnomah County. Originally scheduled to be published by the end of May, the study is now expected to be finalized some time in late July.

Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, a leading voice for public broadband on the Commission, says COVID-19 delayed the study but also presented an opportunity to enhance it. CTC Technology and Energy, which was hired to conduct the study, has added an additional chapter around COVID.

“We have talked about the digital equity gap for a long time, and with COVID, that gap has been shown to be a yawning chasm,” Meieran said. “Now during the emergency, broadband access is essential for people to be able to work, to get information for kids to be able to attend school, to get medical care, or to access services.”

The commissioner says she expects a draft of the study by the end of the month.

Michael Hanna and the Broadband PDX group he helped found have led the union-backed charge for creating a publicly owned municipal broadband network in Multnomah County since 2017. Hanna, a data engineer for the County and chief steward and former president of AFSCME Local 88, says he’ll continue to push for the use of unionized labor in the construction and maintenance of a high-speed fiber-optic network.

“Our main role now is to advocate for the publicly-owned route, rather than just expanding the current corporate for-profit model,” he said. “That is the decision that’s before us as a society: Do we want to perpetuate this for-profit model where hundreds of millions of dollars per year leave our local economy, or do we want to build a digital infrastructure for the future where we as a community own it?”


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