Future-proofing Oregon’s broadband future

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Broadband may be the most important infrastructure needed to future-proof Oregon’s economy and quality of life. That will take more than capital investment. Yes, we should take advantage of all the subsidies currently available but that won’t be enough. 

What broadband Oregon will need can be summarized in one word: more. Future-proofing is not a once and done proposition. Oregon’s current economic advantage over other states because of past broadband investment could quickly dissipate as other states use available subsidies to catch up. 

Current broadband investment will not reach every nook and cranny of Oregon. In future, we will want to get broadband service to every home, business and traveling resident or tourist. Beyond reaching all of Oregon’s farmland for agricultural applications, think of monitoring Oregon forests for fires, fire risks, pests and other hazards as climate changes. Think of reaching Oregon’s most remote locations for emergency services including search and rescue. 

Do you think current predictions of needed broadband capacity will survive a decade? If so, you are wrong. We will need more. My retirement community has secure, private broadband Wi-Fi in each apartment with in-apartment fiber optic connections on an all-fiber route to the internet with reliable, symmetric 100-megabit connectivity. That service requires scalable multiple gigabits of connectivity from our building to the internet. How many of you would have predicted that requirement for an old folks home 10 years ago? Just expect that however much capacity is provided, entrepreneurs will develop applications that will use it all and ask for more. 

Will current broadband providers be able to offer the security, reliability and resilience that will be needed? Can they keep improving their security to stay ahead of bad actors using artificial intelligence to find network flaws to exploit? The best providers have trouble meeting a 99.99% availability standard. Do they have a way to improve by a further order of magnitude to meet a five-nines instead of a four- nines standard to serve future telemedicine applications? Do they have a resilience plan that permits quick restoration of service after the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake that is a certainty in Oregon’s future? Broadband availability will be critical to support every aspect of the recovery of Oregon’s economy and social services after the Big One. 

So, how can broadband help future-proof Oregon’s economy and the quality of life for people here? Maintain a competitive broadband ecosystem and culture of continuous improvement. Competition was how Oregon became a national leader in providing broadband. If any current broadband provider develops a once and done mentality like the former monopoly providers they outcompeted, they need to feel the hot breath of competition on their necks to keep them racing forward into a world of accelerating change. 

A culture of continuous quality improvement should permeate all aspects of the business. Like other information technology businesses, broadband uses cost-declining technology. Consequently, staying competitive and satisfying customers requires constant focus on operating more efficiently while improving the quality of service. However, for long-term success, resilience after inevitable harmful events is more important than short-term efficiencies.  

The bottom line: Future-proofing broadband to best serve the economy and quality of life in Oregon will require a competitive telecommunications ecosystem filled with resilient and  continuously improving businesses. 

By Edwin B. Parker

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