By Frank Lockwood

Staff writer

Fast internet connections are not just for fun. Health, safety, business and jobs are at stake, according to a January report.

New rural telecommunications infrastructure should not be considered “frill,” say studies done for Umatilla and Morrow counties.

“Telecommunications is necessary to the very survival of basic community institutions in our county. Hospitals, schools, emergency services and major industries all depend on affordable, reliable telecommunications just to keep their doors open,” says a report prepared by Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation.

GEODC prepared a “Telecommunications Investment Plan” for Umatilla County, and a similar “Telecommunications Plan” for Morrow County. The plans’ recommendations include:

? Document and describe existing telecommunications infrastructure, uses, and users in the area

? Identify problems and barriers to telecommunications.

? Identify potential solutions and resources.

? Outline and prioritize strategies to solve telecommunications problems.

Umatilla County had established the Telecommunications Steering Committee in May 2000 to develop a plan. In October, the Economic Development Commission approved the city of Pendleton’s application for advanced telecommunications upgrades under Senate Bill 622. The results will be $940,000 in equipment upgrades and the availability of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) once the upgrades are in place. Senate Bill 622, co-sponsored by State Sen. David Nelson of Pendleton and signed into law in 1999, provides grants for K-12 schools, and incentives for telecommunications companies to expand into rural areas with projects that would not otherwise merit investment.

(For complete story, see March 13 edition of The Hermiston Herald)

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