In Klickitat and Skamania Counties, local leaders and residents were told that bringing broadband and high-speed Internet to Klickitat and Skamania counties would cost millions. Communities identified increased broadband telecommunication (Internet) availability, affordability, and use as critical to address employment issues and provide new opportunities, as well as for allowing younger residents to remain in the region while accessing education and employment opportunities.
Poverty levels in Skamania and Klickitat Counties remain relatively high, at 12.6% in Skamania County and 14.6% in Klickitat County. Additionally, in Skamania County 26.3% of residents make less than $25,000 per year and in Klickitat the percentage is 23%. Both counties have seen a significant trend away from resource extraction industries to service economies. This incorporates significant lower-wage job growth as well as some supplemented higher-income technology-sector jobs. The potential for growth in the high-tech industry that is heavily reliant on strong broadband connections, and the need for additional workforce training and educational access to support moving lower-wage workers to higher paying jobs, both indicate that investment in a robust broadband network is essential to meet key community needs.
While participating in a 2007 survey, Klickitat and Skamania County residents identified increased broadband telecommunication (Internet) availability, affordability, and use as critical to address employment and education needs in the region. Local leaders and residents learned that bringing broadband and high-speed Internet to rural communities in the Columbia Gorge region of Washington and Oregon would cost millions. Private telecommunications providers said that there wasn’t a business case for bringing broadband to most of the smaller communities in the area.
Glenwood (pop: 500), located in a scenic but remote area of Klickitat County, understood the challenge of securing high-speed Internet, but decided it was necessary. In November 2007, a telecommunications committee spearheaded by WSU Extension formed to assist Glenwood. Over the next few years, the committee expanded partnerships throughout Klickitat and Skamania Counties.
In 2010, SawNet, a local Internet Service Provider received $3.7 million in federal funds to construct a fiber-optic “middle-mile” network in the region, meaning essential infrastructure would be built. To capitalize on this and other telecommunications investments in the region, the committee expanded its efforts, forming the Kickitat-Skamania Local Technology Planning Team (KSLTPT). Led by the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, WSU Extension, and Community Enrichment for Klickitat County, the KSLTPT secured approximately $170,000.
Between September 2012 and June 2014, KSLTPT led planning team and stakeholder meetings, completed surveys, mapped telecommunications services, developed a framework for addressing broadband gaps, established a mobile training lab, held workshops, created a WiFi hotspot inventory, and published news releases, reports, and a broadband resource website. » More …