Oregon Connections Conference 2023 Recap

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The 27th annual Oregon Connections Conference was held in Ashland, Oregon on October 26 and 27, 2023. 

The Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference non-profit board and the committee stepped up to fill the huge hole left by retired Chris Tamarin who ran the conference for many years prior. 

Attendance records were broken and the event sold out to the capacity at the Ashland Hills Inn. 

Telecommunications Providers, Vendors, State Policy Makers, Local officials and healthcare workers, ai experts and students all gathered for the day and half conference to learn and network. 

Oregon is set to receive at least $689 million in federal funding for broadband infrastructure, and more access to high-speed internet. 

Everyone that gathered focused on the best practices behind deployment of funds and projects that need to be funded. 

Joseph Franell, President of Blue Mountain Networks was the main MC of the conference. 

Senator Ron Wyden kicked off the conference with a fist pounding keynote that showed his passion and dedication to making sure funds get to the people that need it, especially in rural and underserved areas of the state. 

The second keynote was by Tribal Ready President and COO, Adam Geisler, entitled “Money Talks and Implementation Rocks!”. He shared stories from his 7 years as Division Chief Tribal Connectivity and Nation to Nation Coordination at US Department of Commerce, NTIA. And set the tone for all the work ahead for tribal lands and our need to focus on digital equity. 

Krystal Stone chaired the conference.  She is the Broadband Equity, Access and Development (BEAD) Program Coordinator for the State of Oregon. 

During lunch on the first day, Joe and Krystal presented the following awards:

Category #2:   Excellence in Telecom Projects & Regional/Local Strategies
Individual, organization or company that has developed innovative projects or strategies to provide better access, reliability and/or affordability to telecommunications services for communities or promotes and accelerates adoption and utilization.  

  Awardee:   Beacon Broadband

Coos and Curry Counties truly represent the disparity of the digital divide. Our population is largely pushed against the coastline with small population centers about 30 miles from each other along the scenic Highway 101 corridor. These communities have historically been served by big broadband service providers, having access to cable and DSL service. Fiber service has become available in our towns only within the past two years.  However, the reach of incumbent networks is limited.

One home may have a choice of providers and service up to 2 Gbps and their next-door neighbor will have nothing – no wired service because the incumbents’ networks do not reach them; no wireless service because there are no fixed wireless providers; no cellular or satellite service because hills or trees block the signal path.

The area was truly in need of a regional solution that would eliminate the boundaries set by the incumbent providers and close the egregious broadband divide on the south coast. Thankfully, Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative recognized that better access to broadband for all its members would enhance its members’ lives. The cooperative decided to act, and it created Beacon Broadband. The electric cooperative gave its wholly owned broadband subsidiary the challenge of making fiber connectivity available to every member address and to about 6,000 nearby unserved and underserved addresses. Beacon Broadband fiber will serve all of Curry County and most of unincorporated Coos County and represents a truly regional solution. Beacon Broadband’s mission is to bring the high-speed fiber experience where no one else will go – up the wild rivers of the south coast as well as in the towns and cities. The Beacon Broadband project is truly making a difference in the lives of south coast residents

Category #3:   Excellence in Telecommunications Partnerships
Individual, organization or company that has developed an innovative telecommunications partnership for the purpose of providing improved access, reliability and/or affordability for communities or promotes and accelerates adoption and utilization.

 Awardee:  City of Portland/Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)

The City of Portland and OHSU have partnered on several builds in the last few years, the most recently completed is the Marquam Hill Build. The conversations about available City assets started in 2019, and they just put the final touches on a significant campus build that will prepare OHSU for future growth and expansion that will last generations.

The majority of physical assets were available for use, very little materials were needed, and the construction was minimal considering the 2.5 mile length of the project.

This allowed the City of Portland to cost effectively and efficiently provide connectivity for OHSU. This build helps connect locations together in the South Water Front area of downtown Portland. The geography to construct in the area is complicated and costly, but this partnership allowed them to leverage existing assets and add vaults in strategic locations, positioning both the City of Portland and OHSU for future growth.

 Category #5:   Outstanding Telecommunications Advocate
Individual that has made a significant contribution or gone beyond the call of duty to advocate for improved access, reliability and affordability, or promotes and accelerates adoption and utilization of telecommunications.

 Awardee:  Kathryn Greiner, City Administrator, City of Condon

We are all impressed with Kathy’s tenacity to improve broadband for her city, her county and beyond.  She was instrumental in getting a middle mile fiber link between Condon and Arlington, which opened up opportunities for competition and carrier neutral access.   She advocates for her small city of 700 people because she believes that everyone should have access to affordable, reliable and fast internet service, no matter where they live.  She continues to advocate, encouraging providers to up their game and challenging providers who claim to provide service but do not (the FCC mapping challenge process).  Not only do I feel that she deserves this award, but I also think that this recognition will help her keep the faith and motivation to continue her great broadband work into the future as there is still much more work to be done.  Accepting the award for Kathy was Cindy Gammell from Windwave.

The committee responsible for the successful conference was made up of the following volunteers:

Adam Haas

Alexis Greenlee

Brian McGuirk

Cindy Gammell

Diane Garcia

David Soloos

Forest James

Glen Scymanski

Jim Teece

Joseph Franell

Keith Grunberg

Keith Mobley

Kevin Panteleakos

Krystal Stone

Marta Tarantsey

Matthew Hill

Nicole Hays

Pam Berrian

Tammie Davis

One of the many innovations introduced this year was an app that allowed attendees to provide instant feedback on each session and on the conference overall. 

Random comments that were collected at the conference via the app include:

“Joe did a fabulous job engaging with everyone… can’t wait to attend next year!”

— Kayla Stebbins, Beacon Broadband

“Thanks again…well worth my time!!” 

— Scott Hege,Wasco County

“Please keep doing what you’re doing!!! Great work.” 

— Jessica Moss, City of Portland

“Food was great. Awards were beautiful. Great job.”

— Anonymous

Work has already started on next years conference. 

Learn more at https://oregonconnections.info/

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