By Chris Tamarin
The Oregon Connections Telecommunications conference is in its twenty-fifth year.
It is a conference that was ahead of its time in recognizing the essential nature of state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure to Oregon. Over this span of time, the internet has emerged as the global platform for communication, business, government, education, healthcare, energy management, information storage and distribution, public safety and entertainment. It has grown from use by less than 1% of the World’s population in 1995, just 26 years ago, when it was commercialized as the World Wide Web, to use by over 50% of the world’s population this year (over 3.8 Billion users).
2020 was an extraordinarily challenging and pivotal year due to the hugely disruptive COVID-19 pandemic. It has impacted every sector of our economy and almost every aspect of our professional and personal lives. Our strategic response to the pandemic has been to rely on telework, telehealth, ecommerce, distance learning, and social media, all forms of telecommunications. The pandemic has been a hyper-accelerator for broadband public policy, applications, adoption, utilization and infrastructure deployment.
The forced adoption of telework, telehealth, distance learning, cloud based, network “Tele” applications of all types has been a proof of concept for many organizations, institutions, leaders and policy makers that had previously resisted them. This has further enhanced the importance of this conference.
Over the years, Oregon Connections has focused on many topics and issues demonstrating its relevance and foresight. Themes have included the Network Economy, the New Age of Broadband, the Power of Adoption, the Broadband Ecosystem: Living with the Cloud, the Age of Big Data and the Internet of Things, Mobility, Digital Inclusion, and Smart Communities. In 2021, the conference will examine the impacts of the pandemic on broadband telecommunications and look forward at developing public policy, broadband funding, emerging 21st century schools, libraries, health care systems, digital homes and workplaces, smart/precision agriculture, and smart transportation systems all enabled by communication and information technologies.
Broadband telecommunications continues to be a work in progress. The pandemic has created a new sense of understanding, urgency and commitment to address the long-standing pre-pandemic challenges of the Digital Divide. The Digital Divide continues to exist in Oregon and may well be contributing to the economic divide that exists between urban and rural areas of our state. The future will be greatly impacted by Oregon’s ability to take advantage of the current funding opportunities and public policy support to realize what Oregon Connections has been advocating for twenty-five years, equitable statewide access to quality broadband.