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Volunteers bring internet to Holiday Farm Fire area

A newly formed organization, Oregon Internet Response, has engineered a network of wireless towers starting at a site in Bend all the way to Blue River.

Posted: Oct 17, 2020 8:20 PM
Updated: Oct 20, 2020 6:51 AM

BLUE RIVER, Ore. – Permanent restoration of phone and internet services in the Holiday Farm Fire will likely take months, but residents and businesses don’t have time to wait. Now, the community is stepping in to close the communication gap.

A newly formed organization, Oregon Internet Response, has engineered a network of wireless towers starting at a site in Bend all the way to Blue River.

Matt Sayre, a volunteer with the group, said the towers are currently helping provide internet to a U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station, EWEB and the broader community, through a series of public WiFi hotspots.

“Right now, we’re focusing on parking lot areas where people can pull up in their car or traditional community gathering places like churches… and also the school,” Sayre said.

Sayre said the goal of the organization is to provide a temporary solution for businesses and the public until communications companies like CenturyLink and Spectrum are able to rebuild their infrastructure.

The volunteer group obtained permits from EWEB and the U.S. Forest Service to place the towers at strategic locations along ridges and mountaintops. The service is provided free of charge, with the internet and necessary equipment that power the service provided as donations from a handful of companies.

The internet is making a big difference, especially for local business owners.

Taya Brock manages Takoda’s Restaurant in Blue River, which is now using the wireless internet service.

“If we didn’t have WiFi or internet, we wouldn’t be able to be open, and it would be a huge and even bigger devastation for our community than it already is,” Brock said.

The restaurant is using the internet to run point of sales, and it also helps draw in customers who come to use the internet.

 “It’s definitely helping us a lot,” Brock said.

The community may not have access to this new resource if not for the McKenzie River Trust and McKenzie Community Development Corporation.

Brandi Crawford Ferguson with the McKenzie River Trust said one concern she heard from the community was connectivity.

“There was a long list, but one of which was internet. The fact that this entire community was without any services, any connectivity was incredible,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said she got on the phone and quickly started making calls to people with experience with technology. That’s when she got a hold of what would become Oregon Internet Response.

“I really had no idea what I was asking when I picked up that phone and said ‘can you help bring internet access to the upper river community?’ Ferguson said.

It turned out to be a big task, but not an impossible one. While volunteers quite literally climbed mountains to make it happen, Sayre said it’s testament to what is possible.

“Even small groups of really smart people can make a difference during times of emergency,” Sayre said.

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