Rural Oregon county has biggest WiFi system

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/17/2005 - 08:35

The WiFi system that covers the biggest area in the country is not in a major city like New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco. It is in rural Oregon, in a county of just 11,000 people. Not only that, the system is generating substantial revenue, suggesting that there is plenty of money to be made in broadband in rural areas when the whole community gets on board.

Local governments are paying to use the system to automate parking meters, among other applications, and farmers are using it to monitor their crops and to communicate with their buyers.

The availability of the affordable system has spawned dozens of new users no one expected prior to the rollout, which is exactly the point--trying to predict the success of a comprehensive community broadband system by looking at what people and businesses are doing today is completely and utterly futile. It also proves my longstanding argument that feasiblity studies and market studies are of very limited value, because they can only measure what people are doing not. Affordable broadband changes use patterns and opens up new applications people don't think of until they actually have a usable system in place. In my experience, I have seen some broadband "feasibility" studies actually have a negative impact because the study predicts there won't be enough use.

The entrepreneur that owns the system nailed it when asked what the biggest obstacle was to rolling out these systems. His reply was, "Politics." It's not money, and it is not technology. When local governments work with entrepreneurs and businesspeople to support broadband, great things happen.

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