EOT celebrates new building, ownership

Eastern Oregon Telecom of Hermiston has merged with Gorge Networks of Hood River.

Hermiston-based Eastern Oregon Telecom has expanded its reach through a merger with Gorge Networks of Hood River.

Joe Franell, CEO of Eastern Oregon Telecom, is now president of the newly formed Blue Mountain Networks. He said eventually everything might use the Blue Mountain Networks name, but for now customers of both companies will continue seeing the name they are familiar with on communications from their internet provider.

He said EOT has been talking with small internet providers throughout Eastern Oregon for years about combining forces to create more economies of scale, and Gorge Networks was a “perfect” fit. ZRF Partners, a private investment firm, assisted with the financing.

“It’s all positive, all exciting news,” Franell said. “We’re still local. We’re not selling to some big corporation.”

Eastern Oregon Telecom covers Umatilla and Morrow counties in Oregon and Benton County, Washington, while Gorge Networks covers communities in Hood River, Wasco and Sherman counties in Oregon and Klickitat and Skamania counties in Washington.

EOT recently extended fiber internet to Athena, Weston and Adams and is working on Fossil, Spray and Mitchell.

Bringing a reliable internet connection to tiny rural towns is a passion for Franell, who chairs Oregon’s Broadband Advisory Committee, and he said he hopes to solve “digital inequities” in the Blue Mountain Networks coverage area within five years. That includes not only serving small towns for the first time, but also expanding fiber to more neighborhoods in cities, such as Hermiston and The Dalles.

He said in the past the Broadband Advisory Committee has struggled with some “passive” attitudes from the Oregon Legislature about the importance of equity in internet access across the state, but COVID-19 has demonstrated exactly why it is something that should be a funding priority.

“I think that argument is over with,” he said.

Franell said members of the committee are reporting growth in industries, such as telemedicine, online education and telecommuting, for work that had been expected to take decades. The demand has kept internet providers busy.

“Everyone wants internet, and they want it yesterday,” he said.

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