Multnomah County leaders kick off public internet study

October 25, 2019

Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran joined the city leaders of Portland, Wood Village, Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview at Fairview City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 23, to kick off a study on the feasibility of a publicly-owned, regional internet network in Multnomah County. 

Multnomah County is partnering with CTC Technology & Energy, a national consulting firm specializing in municipal broadband.

If implemented, Multnomah County will become one of the nation’s largest municipal broadband providers. The six jurisdictions are partnering with the national consulting firm, CTC Technology & Energy to examine the feasibility and next steps for building the infrastructure. Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann has worked with local leaders to secure support and funding to further the effort. 

Fifteen percent of Portland-area households lack internet access at home. Eighteen percent of households below $30,000 annual income don't have access, 28 percent of those 65 and older and 30 percent of Hispanic households. The project aims to erase the digital equity gap by making internet a public utility, like water or electricity. 

In East County, nearly 20 percent of residents have less than adequate access to the internet and rely on local libraries or other publicly available resources to meet their needs. This is a particular challenge for job seekers and students who rely on the internet for homework assignments.

"This is no longer a luxury that only some people should be able to have access to," Commissioner Meieran said Wednesday. "Access to reliable, high speed internet is not available to everyone equitably across our community."

The total cost of the feasibility study is expected to be $250,000 with Multnomah County contributing $150,000 and the remaining balance allocated across the five other partner municipalities. 

CTC will lead the six jurisdictions through a series of assessments, outreach activities, surveys, and infrastructure analysis over the next several months to evaluate the community's broadband needs. By Spring 2020, leaders hope to have a roadmap for a publicly-owned network to serve everyone in the community. 

“This is the right thing for our future,” Commissioner Meieran said. “Now is the time for us to consider the needs of a 21st-century infrastructure. We’re excited to envision a community-owned network in partnership with Portland, Wood Village, Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview.”