Editor’s note: In 2020 America, Internet connectivity is as vital a piece of infrastructure for many folks as roads and electricity. This is the first in a series of articles about Internet services in Sisters.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the public consciousness a number of inequities that exist in the America of today. One of those is the “digital divide” that exists between large urban areas of the U.S. and smaller rural towns, farms and ranches, Indian reservations, and lower-income urban dwellers.

Providing Internet service to densely packed large and medium-sized cities is a financially viable enterprise. The more subscribers in an area, the less impact on providers’ bottom lines when installing and upgrading the necessary infrastructure to provide high-speed Internet, TV packages, and phone service to residential and business customers.

Sisters is a small rural town with a population under 3,000. Sisters Country (loosely defined as the boundaries of Sisters School District and Camp Sherman), is home to roughly 10,000 people and covers miles and miles of Central Oregon wide open space, with mountains, hills, ridges and buttes. The land is dotted with farms and ranches, occasional developments like Tollgate and Crossroads, the resort community of Black Butte Ranch, the city of Sisters, and houses on small and large acreages — plus those who live completely off the grid.

Broadband is high-speed Internet. The fastest speed available in the U.S. is 2,000 mbps. Average speed is 133 mbps and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as 20 mbps. According to that definition, millions of communities have broadband — but it’s too slow for most peoples’ purposes.

Currently there are five types of Internet service providers (ISPs), but what is available to the average consumer depends on where they live and the ways they use the Internet. Speed, reliability, and cost are usually the three factors that figure in when choosing Internet service, if there are choices.

In Sisters, according to broadbandnow.com, there are 14 possible providers with eight of them offering residential service. Approximately 90 percent of Sisters residents are served by multiple wired providers and several satellite ISPs. According to the same source, Sisters is the 86th most connected city in Oregon, ahead of Mill City but behind Redmond, Culver, and Terrebonne.

Installing cable lines in town isn’t much of a challenge, where houses are on city lots and next door to each other. Running cable to individual houses on multi-acre parcels of land is something else entirely. Satellite dishes are a common sight in isolated rural areas, bringing hundreds of TV channels and providing Internet service via satellite.

Another option is the digital subscriber line (DSL) which runs through the standard phone lines that are wired into a home. There is an advanced DSL that has come online utilizing a type of fiber optic cable that is run to a “cabinet” in a neighborhood, from which copper wires run to houses in the neighborhood.

Fiber optic cables transmit data via fast-traveling pulses of light. A layer of glass called “cladding” is wrapped around the central fiber and causes light to repeatedly bounce off the walls of the cable rather than leak out at the edges, enabling the signal to go farther with no reduction in the strength of the signal. Currently, fiber is the fastest and most reliable connection type, but cable Internet can also provide fast Internet speeds. Both are better than DSL and satellite Internet at consistently delivering promised speeds.

It used to be that fiber was much more expensive than any of the other types of Internet, but price has come down considerably. It is usually used more by large businesses and organizations. Bend Broadband offers some fiber optic cable transmission.

Fixed wireless Internet uses radio waves transmitted by a cell tower to bring Internet connection to the user. This is different from cable, DSL, and fiber, all of which use cables or wires. The beauty of fixed wireless Internet is that it doesn’t require any hard wires. Instead it uses an antenna located on the exterior of the house or in the attic. The antenna picks up radio signals from the closest cell tower and your ISP is then able to provide access to the Internet via a cable carrying the signal from the antenna to the router in your

home.

Fixed wireless is more expensive and doesn’t scale well, so a lot more customers can’t be added on like they can with regular cable. The signal operates by line-of-sight, making hills and trees obstacles to transmission..

Elon Musk, of Tesla fame, among others, is developing low-orbit satellites that could provide Internet service. His developments are out of the theoretical stage and are currently being tested.

Each type of Internet service has its pros and cons and may not be available in all areas. That is what gives rise to the digital divide, which comes from lack of infrastructure and service, and expense of accessing service.

In coming issues of The Nugget, the focus will be on how the digital divide impacts so many facets of life; possible solutions; and pros and cons of choices available in Sisters

Country.