Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference
An Oregon Tradition
By John Irwin, Keith Mobley, Dave Sabala, Diane Garcia and Chris Tamarin
The twenty-fifth annual Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference is scheduled to be held at the Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites on October 28 and 29, 2021. The theme for this year is Oregon Connections: Onward! The 2021 conference presenters and attendees will look forward as we begin to move beyond a disruptive pandemic. The Keynote Speakers include Jonathan Chambers of Conexon, a company that works with rural electric cooperatives to bring fiber to the home and Gigabit speeds to rural communities, and Rey Ramsey of CentriTech, a company focused on building broadband networks, creating content and creating applications for a social purpose. This year’s conference is hosted by Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc.
The conference has long been viewed as a key forum for Oregon’s statewide broadband community of interest. Here are some reflections on the conference shared by five of its frequent participants.
Celebrate 25 Years of Oregon Connections!
The Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference continues a 25-year history of gathering a wide variety of attendees, experts, and pundits to explore the technologies, policies, and future of telecommunication technologies in Oregon. It is a grass roots conference that attracts attendees from industry, government, education, healthcare, and business.
As fulfilling as the presentations, exhibits, and discussions are, so is this annual gathering Oregon’s telecom family fulfilling. In many ways it is a sort of tribal gathering with all the camaraderie and explorations of new contacts that goes with the many hallway discussions, and yes…deal-making. It’s a lot of fun, too!
Yet this conference is more than an opportunity to make contacts and to hear from experts presenting and discussing a wide variety of pertinent and timely broadband technologies and policies. Oregon Connections is also where we salute and recognize the many Oregon telecommunications heroes with recognitions in several important categories including applications, projects, regional/local strategies, partnerships, policy, legislation, advocacy and enduring achievement.
As an attendee since the early days of Oregon Connections, serving on the planning committee starting in 2003, acting as the emcee from 2004-2015, and playing the role of conference photographer for many years (over 10,000 memories caught in time!), I have enjoyed an up close and personal relationship with the conference and many of the attendees that come from all over the world. We will show a selection of those photos taken over the years at the conference. Will you see your photo from years past?
Oregon Connections is one of the highlights of my year. From what I’ve heard over the years, it has been a source of information and contacts for many looking to engage in broadband issues. This conference has been the venue at which many seeds were planted that produced new champions, alliances, partnerships and infrastructure making it one of the most important and rewarding events for telecommunications anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
Come join us at the 25th Oregon Connections conference for the education, discussion, networking and fun!
Central Point, OR
A Personal History – Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference
My interest in telecommunications originated in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was a very junior Navy communications officer aboard the ship carrying the Admiral who would have led the invasion, had that become necessary. Multiple encrypted message of the highest classification and priority had to be prepared and delivered in plain language to the Admiral and his staff. Reliability and speed were key to saving the world then, and today.
After two years (1992-1994) in Canada’s capitol as a trailing spouse with plenty of time to explore the Internet, I could see the potential of this technology to change the world.
When I returned to law practice in The Dalles area in 1995, I began looking for opportunities to engage my interest and use what I had learned.
As soon as I heard about the telecommunication conference happening in Bend, I signed up. That conference over the years has been the source of most of what I now know about this field.
Using economic development as the lever, I helped organize and then led a group the Executive Director of the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District called the Gorge Teleconsortium. We held meetings throughout the Columbia River Gorge, on both sides of the river. They were attended by others interested in economic development and by representatives of the regional telecommunications providers.
By 2001 we had generated enough information, interest and advocacy that the City of The Dalles, Wasco County, the Northern Wasco County Public Utility District, and the Port of The Dalles came together to form an intergovernmental agency they named the Quality Life Intergovernmental Agency, or Q-Life Network.
Resistance to the stated goal of a community fiber network for The Dalles was strong enough to have the Public Utility District and Port withdraw from the agency. Wasco County and the City of The Dalles continued and were eventually able to complete the fiber loop. Almost immediately thereafter, Project 02 materialized and was later revealed to be Google, ready to build its first data center. They did it, and are now negotiating with the city and county for approvals for a fourth and fifth data center, powered by the PUD and all on land formerly owned by the Port.
During that almost 20 years, I served as legal counsel to Q-Life Network, with help from a Washington, D.C. firm associated to provide assistance as needed. My advocacy role continued, and led to further economic development work on behalf of Maupin, through Regional Solutions and some lottery bond funding. Once that was in place, partners and other providers were found to establish a city-owned fiber network operated by private providers. This could not have happened without what was learned by attending the Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference.
Oregon Connections recognizes achievements and contributions
The Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference has a wide diversity of attendees. There are educators, politicians, service providers, vendors, health care providers, economic development personnel, first responders, telecom consultants, students, tribal members, city, county and state government folks and more.
Being from the service provider side, the amount of networking in the hallways, socials and bars receptions for this segment is fun to watch. At our last conference, I saw the initial talks of a purchase of one service provider by another service provider. The deal closed less than one year later.
The conference recognizes achievement and contributions with its annual Oregon Connections Awards. Recognition is given to honor individuals and organizations who have positively impacted telecommunications development in Oregon in broadband applications, projects, partnerships, legislation, and advocacy. The Edwin B. Parker Enduring Achievement Award, is presented to individuals whose contributions in telecommunications have been rendered with the greatest civility, who serve as a role model and mentor to many, and who have provided a lasting legacy influencing for years to come the course and future of telecommunications in Oregon. There are 18 individuals that have received this prestigious award over the years with a deserving individual to receive the award at this year’s conference.
My Oregon Connections Experience
I attended my first Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference in October 2011. I was working for a national broadband company. I was immediately hooked by seminars on technologies and applications that I never knew existed. Driverless combines in the fields? Apps to help predict onset of dementia in the early stages? Drones used for evacuating the wounded? Data centers? Crypto currency mining? This was much more than simply selling big internet pipes to hospitals.
Being a little slow to realize things, I didn’t recognize at first that as exciting as those seminars were, the real value of Oregon Connections happens outside of the sessions in the halls. This is where connections are made and alliances built. Can’t complete a build all the way through to Prineville? Make a contact and see if she will swap fiber to mutually benefit our projects. The hallways and the “after-party” events are where you hear what was really going on and what projects might be out for bid soon.
I asked to join the Planning Committee. Participating in this committee combined with attending the conference worked for me. I met all of our high quality keynote speakers and other important people in our region. The members of the Planning Committee have also been invaluable resources for other work I’ve had outside of telecommunications.
Those who attend and volunteer for the Connections Conference are deeply concerned about improving our communities, and have their hands in many pies. A lot of change happens through these people. I was asked to participate on a couple of Boards because of my participation in Oregon Connections. Those opportunities would never have been offered otherwise.
So join us as we trudge the path of happy Destiny.
Meeting new people
October 2015 was my first time attending the Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference. I had never attended this conference and had no agenda other than meeting old friends I had not seen in years.
The conference turned out to be eye opening. This was not a tradeshow with vendors at the forefront, nor was this a stagnant conference with boring topics and ineffectual presenters. This conference was a live, interactive platform of ideas and opinions.
People who I followed on Linked In, companies who were making a difference in local communities with broadband services, mayors, state representatives, and grassroots organizations were all in attendance.
This was my first opportunity to sit down and have lunch with like-minded people who were focused on improving broadband services in their communities. The conversations were open, honest and humorous.
The conference networking receptions, for me, were highlights. In my opinion, it was, and continues to be, the best networking event in the Northwest. Everyone was warm and welcoming, wanting to make conversation. One always walks away having made at least one new friend.
In addition to meeting new people, I was able to catch up with old friends. With everyone spread out around the country, this is one of the few regional events where friends and colleagues can connect for a few days. Being held at the end of October, most construction is finished, and the holidays are right around the corner.
Attending conference sessions
The main reason that I chose to attend OCTC was to hear from industry experts on the latest technologies. I chose my sessions based on topics, but also based on the people I wanted to hear from. Attending sessions allowed me to reconnect with people I’ve met in the past, sparked new ideas for reaching out to my customers, and helped me identify gaps in my thinking or understanding.
Overall, this conference was, and continues to be, a positive, though exhausting experience. I know I have greatly benefited by attending, and I can’t wait to attend more conferences in the future.
The best reason for anyone to attend Oregon Connections , is to experience the overwhelming positive mood, the passion of conference attendees to increase the quality and access to broadband access and drive to make our communities stronger.
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.