By Danielle Gonzalez, Economic Development Management Analyst
It is not often that Marion County can improve the infrastructure experience of businesses and residents by nearly 1,000%. However, a broadband fiber project currently underway is doing just that in an agriculturally rich area of unincorporated Marion County. At the Dec. 4, 2019, Board Session, commissioners approved a cost sharing agreement with DataVision, a north county internet service provider, to connect 47 rural farm, business, and residential properties to 1 Gbps symmetrical broadband fiber.
Through Oregon video lottery proceeds the county receives for economic development purposes, $150,000 will be contributed to expand the number of properties connected and speed up implementation of the DataVision project along Wheatland and Matheny Roads. Under the agreement, the county also negotiated additional dark fiber out to the Wheatland Ferry for potential future use.
Local farmer and business owner Tony Weathers was on hand to detail the impact of this project to his business. He thanked Marion County and DataVision for their help and said, "I am three miles north of Keizer and I am on dial-up internet." In this area of the county, businesses reported internet download speeds of 1.5 Mbps. Weathers said the lack of internet makes things like paying payroll taxes online, tracking overseas commodity markets, and surveillance applications for his business nearly impossible.
To help reduce the cost of the overall project, farmers will utilize their farm equipment to dig their own trenches from the public right-of-way to their homes and buildings. Commissioner Colm Willis said, "I love this project. The farmers are contributing, DataVision is doing their part, and we are doing our part. This is the perfect economic development project."
DataVision President and CEO Renee Willer said the Gervais-based company has been in business since 1914 and serves hazelnut, hops, and nursery growers in the region. She said, "It is these public-private partnerships that are going to help to get the job done in these rural communities. We are thrilled to be able to partner with Marion County to bring fiber broadband to this group of rural business owners and residents."
The county's interest in the project began after a discussion with a rural farmer just outside of Gervais who received a quote of $56,000 to connect the family farm to broadband fiber. Broadband fiber is an essential infrastructure for rural and agricultural communities to be economically competitive. The viability of small farms depends on efficiencies and precision agricultural applications. Gigabit internet service is required for advanced farming applications such as GPS enabled water use, chemical use monitoring software, and surveillance asset protection.
The cost sharing agreement provides a benefit to all of the parties involved — rural property owners receive the internet service they desperately need, DataVision gets customers, and the county has a reduced future expense for internet service. Commissioner Kevin Cameron said, "This is just a sample of what we hope happens on a broader scale in our rural communities. We have a lot of more work to do."