Travis Boyd of Wallowa Valley Network installs an internet tower bringing the Wallowa Lake community high-speed Internet.
As the world becomes increasingly dependent on the internet, reaching remote areas has become more and more of a challenge for companies providing broadband access.
Wallowa Valley Network of Enterprise connected Wallowa Lake to high speed connectivity this year and is reaching out to the remote regions of the county.
Wallowa Valley Network began providing internet access to Enterprise and Joseph in the fall of 2009. Since then, they have expanded down valley to Wallowa as far as the mouth of the Wallowa River Canyon, to Lostine, and to the outskirts of the Upper Wallowa Valley.
Shooting signals around corners can be tricky, but with access to RY Timber property on Wallowa Lake’s east moraine, the company was able bring in a 12-megabyte connection to an area that’s previous options were dial-up or satellite internet.
“The Lake Basin is a tough place to cover with no direct line of sight,” said Travis Boyd of Wallowa Valley Network.
The company was able to find a south facing spot on the moraine to install a solar powered radio relay that picks up a signal from a tower in downtown Enterprise and broadcasts it to Wallowa Lake, said Boyd.
The relay system is entirely solar powered with a battery back-up that can last one and a half months. Boyd said his greatest fear in losing power isn’t cloudy days or January inversions, but hail storms that can destroy solar panels.
“I’ve seen hail storms here that could do that,” he said.
The network company is now targeting the northern regions of the county. They hope to provide service to Flora this year and Troy by next year, deep down in the Grande Ronde River Canyon.
Moses Frederic said they met with the Flora community last month to do a site survey and the community is very interested. They were able to pick up a signal from the tower on Sheep Ridge in Lostine 40 miles away.
A Flora landowner has offered use of his barn where a dish will be hung on one side and an antenna on the other to provide service in the Flora area.
In addition, Frederic said, they talked to a farmer about installing a solar relay on his land to pick up a signal from the Sheep Ridge tower and send it to Troy.
James Bane rounds out the three-partner business that just purchased its first service truck. Though Boyd does a lot of service calls on his 10-speed, he said it’s hard to carry a ladder on his bike.
Setting up a tower and relay system requires a decent outlay of money, but is relatively inexpensive, said Boyd. A lot of the USDA grant money offered two years ago for rural internet access actually went to suburban areas and didn’t get as far as rural America. Plus, the grant paperwork was fairly arduous.
“Small business has done way more for the ‘digital divide’ than the government,” said Boyd.
For the future, Frederic said the company wants to get into using fiber optics.
As Frontier, the local land-line phone service provider, is forced to replace old, copper-wire phone lines, Wallowa Valley Network could possibly piggy-back onto those projects.