Lebanon will be the first in the Willamette Valley half to bring enterprise-grade fiber-optic Internet to every home in the city limits.
The city signed a deal Nov. 9 with Corvallis-based PEAK Internet that will allow the company to begin covering Lebanon with fiber lines in 2023.
PEAK has been planning for nearly a decade to bring fiber to Lebanon, installing dozens of miles of fiber lines in separate projects in Lacomb and Sweet Home. Proponents say the infrastructure could attract businesses and stimulate economic growth.
“Lebanon is the donut hole for us,” said company CEO and president Rick Petersen.
Petersen uses a PEAK wireless connection in Crawfordsville: The company delivers download speeds of 3 to 30 megabits per second via radio receivers with a clear line-of-sight to a broadcasting tower.
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But in Lebanon, Petersen saw the potential for something much faster.
PEAK once provided free broadband. High-speed internet was pumped into wireless routers around the city, to which users could connect computers and smartphones.
A 2006 study estimated that Lebanon was one of only about 60 offering citywide internet.
It was “great,” Petersen said, fast enough for casual users. “But wouldn’t it be great if we had a fiber network in the city?” he said.
Lebanon stopped free Wi-Fi in 2013.
The company is still deciding precisely what connection speeds and at what prices PEAK will offer residents.
“I can tell you they will be extremely competitive with Comcast,” said Brian Fagan, the company’s customer experience coordinator.
PEAK offers download speeds of 100 and 250 megabits per second and 1 gigabit per second. Upload speeds are 20, 100 and 500 Mbps.
Gigabit internet is typically where corporate-level internet comes from in the middle of the Willamette Valley. In Lebanon, PEAK laid fiber lines at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine—Northwest.
City officials said fiber internet was one of the factors prompting the Pamona, California-based university to build in Linn County.
Fagan described Lebanon as a city that has embraced economic expansion.
“The city government is very open to economic development,” he said.
Increasingly, gigabit fiber is seen as a residential Internet option.
Petersen said Lebanon’s strategic plan identified fast internet as a way to future-proof the city. And the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments has recognized high-speed Internet access as critical to the rural state.
Then the global coronavirus pandemic showed internet service providers, workers and employers that people can get projects done and attend meetings from home.
“The need was identified before COVID, and COVID just put an exclamation mark,” Petersen said.
In addition to receiving CARES funding, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act paid for dozens of miles of fiber network at Lacomb, an additional $13.2 million in loans and grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid for expanding fiber access to 11 square miles of Linn County between Sweet Home and Lebanon.
Fagan and Petersen said fiber connections will make Lebanon more attractive to people working from home.
“If you’re a home worker and you keep having interruptions, your boss will probably ask you to go back to the office,” Petersen said.
The company provided DSL through CenturyLink, but will now seek city-bond-based financing to install its infrastructure, “instead of leaning on the old copper infrastructure,” Fagan said.
PEAK is the broadband arm of Philomath-based Consumers Power Inc. and will offer fiber in Lebanon as Santiam Fiber.
The company has signed on to a contractor to embark on a $40 million effort to connect about 8,000 buildings to fiber by 2025, Petersen said.
PEAK’s deal is not exclusive: It will be a broadband provider in the city where customers will also be able to get Xfinity, Comcast Corp.’s broadband service; and Lumen Technologies internet which was formerly known as CenturyLink.
The city’s director of information technology said it was important that existing providers in Lebanon not be “kicked out” by incoming fiber.
“It’s frustrating when you only have one option,” Hurst said.
Alex Powers (he/he) covers business, environment and healthcare for Mid-Valley Media. Call 541-812-6116 or send an email Alex.Powers@lee.net.