This is more than a story of “the little city that could.” It is a story of persistence, serendipity and a public-private partnership that works.
Maupin, a small town on the lower Deschutes River in Central Oregon, now has the fastest internet speeds commercially available in the Pacific Northwest. Two companies provide businesses and households with blazing-fast 1 gigabyte-a-second service, although most folks have opted for the 100 mbs service that is more than sufficient for general uploading and downloading.
No longer must Maupin mostly rely on slow DSL — with a waiting list to sign up for the service — or the slightly faster wi-fi bounced dish-to-dish from The Dalles, 45 minutes away.
High-speed internet has been a game-changer. Rob Miles of the Imperial River Co. in Maupin calls it “another step in the right direction for keeping a small town viable.”
“With the proliferation of everyone having a wireless device, the need has increased exponentially over the years,” said Miles, who runs a lodge, restaurant and whitewater rafting. “If you don’t have a robust wireless system, guests are not happy. It’s a common complaint.”
Thanks to Maupin’s fiber optic network, businesses no longer kick folks off the internet in order to have enough bandwidth to process credit card transactions. Urban tech workers, who can live anywhere and telecommute via broadband, are starting to buy homes in Maupin. The school district now offers online college classes.
Anglers who arrive for salmon and steelhead season can camp at Maupin City Park for a month instead of going home every few days to access faster internet. Outdoors companies may sell more videos and photos of their clients’ adventures, because uploading takes mere seconds instead of hours.
Ideally, said Mayor Lynn Ewing, a few small companies — ones that employ five or 10 people at reasonable wages — will locate in Maupin after seeing the community as an attractive place for their employees.
Ewing does not expect the town’s character to change as it draws new residents.
“They want to be in Maupin because of the small-town feel. They like knowing their neighbors. They like to be able to get outside and go fishing and hiking and rafting and all the things that people do out here,” Ewing said.
After the timber mill closed in 1992, the local economy relied on tourism and vacation homes. Maupin’s population dropped from nearly 600 to fewer than 400 but has since grown back to about 430 residents.
Broadband access was a longtime economic, social and educational need. Google financed a feasibility study in 2014. The state and others followed with more funding.
Because the Bonneville Power Administration uses fiber optic to connect its substations, the original idea was to tie into the BPA substation a couple of miles outside town. That meant the city would have only enough funding left to bring broadband to the school and city buildings.
A chance meeting at a conference led to collaboration with LS Networks, which already was bringing fiber from the BPA substation to Maupin cell towers. The was able to tie into the that fiber and use its funding to create a citywide broadband system.
The city owns the network, having partnered with QLife — a public consortium in The Dalles — to handle the network design and development. LS Networks built the network. Both that company and Gorge.Net offer broadband to subscribing households and businesses.
Also helping with the three-year, $2.16 million broadband project were the Gorge Health Council, Wasco Electric Co-Op, legislators, the governor’s staff and others.
Residential prices for broadband are about $40 for 100 mbs and $70 for 1 Gbps. The prices for businesses are about $60 and $90.
Internet phone service also is available for $10 or $15 per line.
Residents appreciate leaving slow-speed internet behind.
“If you wanted to watch Netflix, you could watch it and maybe halfway through the show it would be about to start buffering, and it might catch up and it might not,” Mayor Ewing said. “Of course, these things are not an issue anymore with the high-speed.”