POLK COUNTY — In August, Alyrica Networks Inc., took on the challenge of upgrading rural Polk County residents with high speed broadband before the end of the year.
Jason Richards, representing the Philomath company, informed the Polk County Commissioners at their Dec. 29 meeting it was mission accomplished, having exceeded all three main goals.
Richards said 91% of rural Polk County now has access to broadband Internet, 85% can get 180 megabits per second, and can now get broadband, defined by the FCC as 25 mbps download speed and 3 mbps upload speed, at 25/5 mbps, all at under $100.
The project came about after a 2019 Polk County survey determining residential interet capabilities. The county used $1 million in CARES Act money to contract with Alyrica to upgrade those services.
Alyrica has installed six towers since August and additional dishes to fill in the coverage gaps and now serves nearly 2,000 potential customers, Richards said. He explained that so far, 595 rural addresses are currently online, 434 addresses reached out to Alryica asking for service at their address, with 231 have put on the calendar and 148 scheduled installs are complete.
He broke down the completed, large tower infrastructure installations by date, location and potential customers that can now get service:
Nov. 15 — McTimmonds, serves 407 potential customers in Bridgeport, Fall City and Lewisville.
Dec. 11 — Doane Creek, serves 500 potential customers in the Greater Buell Area.
Dec. 11 — Savage, serves 399 potential customers, in the Greater Willamina Area.
Dec. 22 — Pedee, serves 67 potential customers, in the Pedee area.
Dec. 23 — Grand Ronde, serves 373 potential customers, in the Greater Grand Ronde Area.
Dec. 30 — Rob Mills, serves 161 potential customers, in the Oakdale and Fall City areas.
Richards said Alyrica had to overcome two challenges for the project. First, were the rural fires.
“The biggest challenge right out from the getgo had to be the fires,” Richards told the commissioners. “We weren’t able to go into a lot of forest land at that time. We had to wait almost another month before we were able to get into forested areas to do the work we needed to do.”
Second, was the forested areas blocking line of site for the towers.
“So that can be resolved one of two ways,” Richards said. “Tree installs, where certified arborists climb up and put a dish in a tree to get over tree coverage. And the other is micro/macro pops, where you have an existing customer and we put another radio on their service and we can transmit to more localized residents in their neighborhood.”
Micro pops service less than five other residents while macro pop adds more than five residents to an existing customer’s signal.
Richards added the service has brought broadband to more than just residential neighborhoods. He said the Pedee School was brought online Dec. 31, the Luckiamute Charter School in the Bridgeport area received a dedicated link, and the Pedee Fire Station 70 received an upgrade from a micro pop connection from the nearby neighbor Pedee Memorial Evangelical Church.
Commissioner Craig Pope, who now receives broadband at his rural address thanks to a micro pop connection at his neighbor’s house, said he has been impressed by the job Alryica has done to bring a service to the community that is not just about entertainment.
“This is more than just residential and household service. This really fits into the backbone of our rural infrastructure needs in general. From our fire district, which had a weak if non-existent connection to Pedee Fire Station, to these schools in very isolated locations,” Pope said. “And the Central School District has been very proactive to help encourage their families to reach out to Alryica so that they get connection because they’ve got a number of families in those potential service areas that haven’t had appropriate connection. None of this is intended for entertainment first. It was all intended for helping folks service the needs for their family, education, their jobs.”
Up next, Richards said Alyrica will start billboard and read advertising in the county this month to attract at least 70% of the backlog of 270 of unconnected, potential customers. Then they plan to send postcard mailers to every address now within the service area. Then start a door-to-door campaign in the remaining areas the county has identified as hotspots for broadband need.
Commissioner Mike Ainsworth said he appreciates the service coming online, especially during the pandemic for families with children.
“To be able to get on the Internet and do their homework, it’s extremely difficult,” Ainsworth said. “Where do they go? Come into town or some place? They used to be able to go to the library, but not any more.”
He added his own children and grandchildren are excited about now getting coverage in the Pedee area.
“Pedee residents were asking and begging for somebody to come in and do something. There are now several residents that have internet that did not a week ago, including the firehouse,” Richards said. “We knew Pedee was a hot spot when we started because they’ve been the most vocal. Pedee is very excited we’re in the area.”
He added that James Mellion, a very vocal Pedee community member who is known as “Mayor of Pedee,” even though the town doesn’t have an actual position, blasted out an email essentially to everybody on his contact list.
“Alyrica has been fantastic to work with, super professional and friendly. Polk County made the right choice awarding the grant to them,” Mellion wrote.
At the end of his presentation, Pope awarded Richards and Alryica a check for $200,000 representing the final payment for completing the job before the CARES Act deadline.
“I’ve said on the record many times, it was a huge risk for you guys to step up and say we’re going to do this under COVID. And then wildfires set you back,” Pope said. “But you guys have done an amazing job of meeting that demand, getting everything in place so that we can meet this crazy Dec. 31 deadline.”