Internet project hailed as boon to economy
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
January 24, 2014 09:40 pm

Redundancy is here!

Redundancy is here!

After years of negotiations and construction, officials with Charter Communications and Oregon Health Network unveiled a ceremonial “crystal spike” to commemorate the linking of two Internet routes.

“Access to high-tech telecommunications facilities will jump-start economic development,” said County Commissioner David Itzen, who worked to make the connection a reality. “It’s thrilling to see this take place.”

The fiber optic network is the last segment of an 87-mile route from Grants Pass to Crescent City, and consists of a 720GB circuit with the capacity to service thousands of people across multiple cities.

In it simplest terms, the line completes a redundant, fiber-optic loop connecting Southern Oregon and Northern California, establishing a more reliable connection.

It will enable physicians at Sutter Coast Hospital to more reliably utilize “telemedicine,” and send even complex information to patients or other doctors far away.

A new, 1GB circuit connected to the hospital has the capability to transmit a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) X-ray in less than one second, or a pathological study — cardiologists working live on an X-ray table — in about eight seconds.

Curry Health Network CEO Andrew Bair could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The connection will also bring high-speed Internet, phone and high-definition television service to numerous households and businesses, make advanced telemedicine possible and create opportunities for businesses such as call centers with heavy data applications.

How it works

For all its expense and technology, the system looks pretty simple, said John Irwin, owner of J Irwin Consultants in Central Point and among the driving forces to get the system in place.

The system, he said, looks a bit like a ladder.

“Imagine Interstate 5 and 101 as rails of a ladder,” he said. “Redundancy provides the rungs.”

One rail runs down the coast, from Astoria to Crescent City; the other parallels the Interstate 5 corridor. Rungs link the two rails, with the one serving this area stretched from Roseburg to Bandon.

But it breaks, South Coast subscribers lose service.

That has happened, with incidences as seemingly benign as a lawnmower in Grants Pass that cut a wire and a fire in Brookings that cut service here.

The new “rung,” from Grants Pass to Crescent City, will create a loop — Crescent City to Bandon to Roseburg and south to Grants Pass — and allow for quick rerouting of those services to avoid lapses in service.

“Broadband is the ladder to the future, and we are slowly but surely trying to fill in those rungs on the ladder,” Irwin said. “You will have as good or better connectivity than urban centers in Oregon — better than in northern California.”

The last connection — the “Gasquet Gap,” between Gasquet and O’Brien — was originally supposed to be complete by the end of 2012, but inclement weather and rough terrain precluded that.

The process

The redundancy line was made possible by the Federal Communications Commission Rural Health Care Pilot Program, and the financial and political will of Charter Communications and the hospital — and is the first national model since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“There were all sorts of environmental, archeological, biological reviews,” he said. “We’ve got two states, two forest jurisdictions – which are like their own feudal empires – and the BLM was involved. It took about a year just to get permitting in place. And it’s not something they’re used to doing. The only utility was established before some of those people were born.”

Charter Communications is building the legs; Oregon Health Network has been managing the financial end and utility companies from both states are included in negotiations.

“These thing are complicated,” Irwin added. “There are a lot of moving parts; the politics involved, the funding involved. It had to be positioned as a very strong business venture.”

Crystal spike

The $1.6 million investment included contributions from Charter, the Oregon Department of Education High Desert Education Service District and the Rural Health Care Pilot Program of the Federal Communication Commission through the Oregon Health Network.

Representatives from all involved met at Sutter Coast Hospital Wednesday to celebrate the final link and “pound” a ceremonial crystal spike, reminiscent of the golden spike pounded to signify the linking of railroad tracks across the nation.

“The Sutter Coast project is an example of how bringing broadband Internet, phone and HD TV service to rural communities provides a way for businesses to expand and add jobs,” said Frank Antonovich, vice president and general manager for Charter in Oregon.