Oregon broadband stimulus project held up by franchise fee fight

Oregon's Clackamas County is the latest region to face a challenge in getting their broadband stimulus middle mile project off the ground due to a disagreement over franchise fees in Oregon City.

As reported in The Oregonian, Clackamas County broke ground on its 185-mile middle mile network designed to serve both urban and rural parts of the county when it won a $7.8 million broadband stimulus grant.

Before city officials ordered the county to halt construction on Sept. 13, the county built out 20,000 feet of fiber connecting its main campus in Oregon City and neighboring wastewater treatment plants.

Set to be completed in 2013, the middle mile network would connect about 160 schools, fire stations, local state and government agencies and community sites.

Oregon City officials said that while the county got the necessary right of way permits, they did not secure a franchise agreement. In the city, all local electric utility, telcos and cable operators pay franchise fees to the city to operate in public rights of way. The city would like the county pay $210,000 annually, meaning any agency that uses the network would have to pay $10,000 year.

However, county representatives argue they should not have to pay the franchise fee, which is not required in surrounding cities and towns, adding that if they can't come to terms with the city it simply will not provide the network there.

"If no solution can be reached within the next week or two, the project will simply bypass Oregon City," county spokesman Tim Heider said. "The fire district, schools and hospitals, businesses and households that stood to benefit from real choices for affordable, high-speed broadband access will go without."

Despite this setback, city recorder Nancy Ide maintains that the two sides can reach common ground. "We both are on the same page as far as wanting to see the project in Oregon City and throughout most of the county," she said.

Oregon is not the only state where community-led broadband stimulus projects have run into problems. Community-based middle mile broadband projects in Florida and Louisiana were halted due to alleged project mismanagement.

For more:
- The Oregonian has this article

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