By Ted Case
History sometimes repeats itself.
In 1939, Ivan Laird could not get electricity to his farm in Sitkum, a small town 45 miles east of Coos Bay on the Oregon Coast. Like millions of rural Americans, Laird was living a far different life than those in cities.
It was a tale of 2 Americas: one with the modern conveniences made possible because of electricity and one that was not far different than those that toiled in the Middle Ages.
Laird recognized that for-profit electric providers were unlikely to serve remote areas of Oregon’s south coast and decided to do something about it. He organized a group of neighbors to establish what would become Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative, bringing electricity to south coast residents who had all but given up hope of having it.
Today, there is another gaping divide between rural and urban America that has ramifications for the descendants of those who electrified this nation.
Ivan’s grandson, David, lives in the historic family home in Sitkum and cannot get reliable high-speed internet service. Like many others on Oregon’s south coast, David is counting on the local electric cooperative to again transform the area.
On May 2, Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative’s subsidiary, Beacon Broadband, flipped the switch on its new broadband network at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Brookings. The cooperative joined approximately 200 electric cooperatives nationwide that are providing or building out broadband.
The ceremony represented a culmination of more than 3 years of work by Coos-Curry Electric, Beacon Broadband and its partners to build the first sections of the network that will be available to all CCEC members and some neighboring areas— approximately 19,000 homes and businesses in Coos and Curry counties.
“Beacon Broadband will bridge the digital divide that exists right here in Curry and rural Coos counties,” said Pete Radabaugh, Beacon Broadband’s board president. “It will help bring economic, educational, and social vitality to the south coast for decades to come, along with the same quality, reliability, and affordability we get from the co-op.”
Barron’s Home Furnishings in Brookings has been in business since 1994. It was the first business member to receive broadband service from Beacon Broadband. Owner Terry Adams plans to integrate interactive digital signage, visual displays and informational kiosks into his business—something he could not have done without high-speed fiber broadband.
“Broadband allows us to take advantage of integrating new technologies into our business,” Adams said. “Connecting to Beacon Broadband’s service opens up the doors for rural communities like Brookings to gain access to more advanced technologies.”
Few Coos-Curry members are as excited to get broadband than those in the small, remote town of Arago. The town has never been served by traditional internet, relying instead on a patchwork of fixed wireless solutions, cellphones and satellite.
Arago resident Jerek Hodge anxiously awaits the speed and reliability of a fiber network. He is one of 1,800 people who have preregistered for Beacon services.
“Beacon Broadband will make it possible to work from home,” Hodge said. “We have homeschooled our 5 children and have found it difficult to download videos with the fixed bandwidth earlier providers have offered. We bought internet hotspots. We just make it work.”
Much like the advent of the electric co-op in the 1930s and ’40s, the broadband rollout will not happen overnight. However, Beacon Broadband has initiated a 3-year fiber-to-the-home construction plan.
When complete, the company will offer access to some of the fastest symmetrical upload/download multi-gigabit internet capabilities in the nation. The network is being built with redundant paths to ensure customers stay connected.
The key to success, however, is Coos-Curry’s local connection that started more than 80 years ago with Ivan Laird’s bold vision of electrifying the south coast. That is no less true today with Beacon Broadband, using the same motivation as the co-op’s founder: providing an essential service because no one else would.