Portland was supposed to get another fast internet option this fall thanks to the launch of Google Fiber, but the company first delayed the rollout for the Oregon city in July — and then really pressed the brakes in October. On the cutting room floor: More funds for the city’s Digital Equity Action Plan. The deal between Google and Portland had stipulated that 3 percent of the company’s Fiber revenues would go toward that initiative, which is aimed at bridging the digital divide.
But even after the summer news about a pause, city officials remained upbeat about their efforts to bring equitable internet access to Portland.
“While the future goal was that the [Google fee] would help offset some of the cost of implementing the plan over the long term, the plan’s implementation was never contingent on Google Fiber and collection of the fee,” wrote Ann Goldenberg, division manager for the City of Portland Office for Community Technology, in a recent email.
Regarding that goal, Goldenberg said, “The City of Portland recognizes that all of our residents need access to broadband to live their lives fully — to apply for jobs, to access healthcare, and to engage in educational opportunities.”
While people may be disappointed by the Google news, both Comcast and CenturyLink already offer fast service, and Portland’s other high-speed providers have helped to make neighborhoods like a onetime warehouse district a draw for businesses and residents. These options might not offer the splashy headlines of a Google Fiber launch, which, in Kansas City, is credited with boosting that town’s tech hub rep.
But both Comcast and CenturyLink contribute 3 percent of revenue to fund “public communications benefits.” Each provider negotiates those deals with the city of Portland, and the money currently goes toward a community grants program that directs some of the funds to nonprofits and libraries. A portion goes to two community media providers in the city that provide access to the internet and training classes for low-income families.
“Portland has a digital equity plan budgeted within the city’s general planned budget, separate from the franchises,” says Brendan Finn, chief of staff with the city of Portland. “The city will work on implementation separate of any franchise and provider. But as franchises are renewed, digital equity will be a component (with any provider).”
In October, the city also moved city staffer Rebecca Gibbons into a new job to further the agenda overall.
“[Gibbons] was hired … to help realize the goals of the DEAP and to coordinate and mobilize a coalition of community organizations,” said Goldenberg. “The first year’s work is focused around strengthening community partnerships to coordinate sharing knowledge about the community organizations that provide free or low cost broadband access, free or low cost devices and training. We plan to identify and track success measures, so as to effectively reach our goal of bridging the digital divide for all.”
Alice Williams is a business and tech reporter who has written for TechCrunch, KSL and Engadget.