2023 In Review: Laying The Groundwork For Broadband & Digital Equity For All Oregonians

As we prepare to see 2023 in our rear-view mirrors, what stands out the most is the significant body of activity undertaken this year by the State of Oregon (led by the Oregon Broadband Office or the “OBO”) to lay the groundwork for anticipated historic levels of broadband investment by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), specifically the Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment (BEAD) program. With nearly $689M allocated to our state, we have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct the digital divide for marginalized Oregonians – those unserved and underserved by access to high-speed, reliable, resilient Internet and all the societal benefits that come with it. The BEAD initiative is bold, ambitious, and has the potential to be transformational. The stakes have never been higher, requiring intensive prework to accurately assess socioeconomic and cultural needs across specific populations (including rural, veteran, senior and disabled Oregonians), thoughtful collaborations across the Oregon broadband ecosystem, including public, non-profit, and private entities, and a comprehensive evaluation of technological approaches. This massive undertaking in 2023 was necessary to ensure that the funding grants will successfully address systemic broadband inequities across our state. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in some of these efforts in 2023 and applaud the Oregon Broadband Office for its progress.

Link Oregon’s Executive Director Steve Corbato with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden

Specific to Link Oregon, this backdrop of activity is core to our mission to operate an advanced statewide middle-mile broadband network for the public and non-profit sectors that is resilient, cost effective, and sustainable. We rolled out our own strategic plan in April 2023, with the support of our five founding entities: the State of Oregon through its Enterprise Information Services division, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Oregon Health and Science University and Portland State University, which outlined our approach to advancing broadband across Oregon for greater inclusion, resilience, and economic sustainability. 

Here are a few highlights from our busy and productive year:

Link Oregon’s Steve Corbato with other national REN organizations at a meeting hosted by THE QUILT
  • Legislative Advocacy: Link Oregon participated in the consultative and legislative advocacy processes for two bills, HB 3201and HB 2049, providing both verbal and written testimonies. HB 3201, the statewide broadband bill, revised state statute to ensure that Oregon is able to receive all federal funding available to the stateand distribute it efficiently and equitably to all Oregon communities. HB 2049 established the Oregon Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (OCCoE) for oversight, coordination, funding, education, and training to mitigate the growing prevalence, impact, and evolution of cybersecurity threats. Both bills passed and were signed by Oregon Governor Tina Kotek.

  • Participation in BEAD Proposal Development: We offered inputs and submitted comments on Oregon’s BEAD Initial Proposal Volumes I and II, Oregon’s Digital Equity Plan and the handbook for the ARPA Capital Projects Fund Broadband Deployment Program—all put forth by the Oregon Broadband Office.

  • Middle Mile Advances: Zayo was awarded $92.9 million as part of the NTIA Middle-Mile Grant Program in 2023—the only national provider to receive this funding—and plans to use this award to build critical middle-mile connections in south-central Oregon. Among the key supported projects is one benefiting communities in Fort Rock, La Pine, Lakeview, Lone, Mayville, Mitchell, Paisley, Prineville, and Umatilla. Link Oregon provided support for this proposal and was represented at an award recognition event that Senator Ron Wyden held in Umatilla in June.

As part of the OBO’s BEAD proposal public comment process in 2023, we strongly supported the initial development of a state-hosted middle mile map and encouraged the OBO to participate in a federal middle mile mapping program (housed within NTIA or another agency) that would federate mapping data from state broadband and other offices. We believe that continuing to build critical middle mile connections using data-informed approaches to identify key gaps is essential to fulfilling the promise of using BEAD funds to bring affordable and resilient broadband connectivity and digital equity to Oregon.

Link Oregon at the Oregon Connections 2023 conference
  • Momentum for eduroam: As the designated eduroam Support Organization for Oregon’s K-12 schools, libraries, and museums, Link Oregon– in partnership with Internet2– is preparing to roll out eduroam connectivity across the state, allowing seamless, secure WiFi roaming to students, faculty and staff among participating institutions. We are currently conducting a pilot program with Lane Education Service District (ESD), which supports 16 school districts in Lane County, and will expand to include additional ESDs in 2024.

  • Tribal Advocacy: We hosted the fourth Oregon Tribal Broadband Summit in September 2023 with tribal leaders to focus on broadband planning, infrastructure, and funding opportunities. 

  • Western States Broadband Alliance: Through this initiative, Link Oregon continues to advance sharing of best practices, updates and insights on broadband deployments between the states of CA, CO, ID, NV, OR, UT, WA, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). Representatives from state broadband offices, state libraries, state research and education networks, and Tribal liaisons participate in this community of practice.

  • Technical Excellence: Delivering state-of-the-art broadband connectivity to our member organizations is core to our mission. In 2023, we continued to aggressively drive optimizations across our statewide middle mile network for improved resiliency, greater automation, a rich set of direct connections to major cloud providers as well as support for private cloud networks, and rigorous cybersecurity protocols. We have activated more than 80 new or upgraded services since the migration to our new network in 2022. 

We stand ready and look forward to working with our ecosystem partners in Oregon to help write the next chapter of our state’s broadband future in 2024.