Residents in Camp Sherman have the opportunity to indicate their interest in obtaining fiber optic broadband. Connectivity currently is poor, unreliable, or nonexistent.

If residents submit a non-binding letter of interest now, before planning begins on the system, the plan can be designed right to their homes or businesses and their hookup cost will be covered by grants secured for installation of the system. Residents who choose to wait and hook up after the system is in place will be looking at charges starting at about $1,000, depending on how far their house or business is from the main fiber line.

People who submit a letter of interest now will receive notification when they can preorder their service, once the grant funding is received for construction of the system. Grant applications won’t be submitted until permits for the project are in place.

Joe Franell of Blue Mountain Networks in Hermiston and Josh Richesin of Sureline Broadband in Madras are partnering to bring the project to fruition. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Sureline was able to secure a relief grant to install a stopgap transmitter, so students were able to telecommute to Black Butte School.

Half of the rural counties in Oregon are pursuing obtaining broadband, but Camp Sherman is in a strong position because they have already done their preliminary assessment of need, which indicated that 78 percent are not happy with their current Internet connection, which is either through satellite or DSL. Twenty percent have no Internet connection and 12 percent have Sureline, part of the school emergency connection. Ninety-five percent in the assessment said they would be interested in acquiring high-speed Internet service.

Sureline has already invested significantly in a feasibility analysis, as well as applied for a conditional use permit with the U.S. Forestry Service (USFS). They plan to use existing poles running through the Deschutes National Forest that are being decommissioned by Central Electric Cooperative. Central Electric Cooperative already conducted all the necessary studies and surveys regarding environmental impact and possible archeological sites. The only thing needed is a special use permit from the USFS for use of the poles through the forest. The local USFS office has expressed preliminary support for the transfer.

Jennie Sharp at Black Butte School has been involved in the effort to bring broadband to Camp Sherman since she worked on the Black Butte School District Community Broadband Needs Assessment prepared by Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council. She will be collecting the letters of interest from residents and is asking for one letter per address.

A letter of interest form is available at www.campshermanfiber.com/letter, where more information is available about the entire project. The form can be submitted right from the website. Copies of the form can also be printed and given to people who don’t have internet capability. Those forms can be mailed to Sharp at the Black Butte School, PO Box 150, Camp Sherman OR 97730 or dropped off in the black mailbox in front of the school. Grant funders will be looking for buy-ins from the community, so it is important that everyone who is interested submits a letter. Over 50 percent support is good information for funders.

In a Zoom meeting last Thursday night, Janel Ruehl of COIC outlined where the project goes from here:

Black Butte School will collect the letters of interest. In-community connections will be designed. The USFS permit will be secured. Sureline and Blue Mountain will create the plan and cost estimates. Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council will help prepare and submit grant applications. Grant funding will be awarded. The middle section, from Sisters to Camp Sherman, will be constructed on the old Central Electric Cooperative poles that run over Green Ridge into Camp Sherman. The final step will be running the fiber line to each subscriber. The expected timeline for the project will depend on when permits and funding are granted.

Blue Mountain’s Franell indicated that of all technology, fiber optic is by far the most reliable, at 99.9 percent reliability. He said their first step in construction will be to add fiber optic in Sisters.

For more information email Sharp at jsharp@blackbutte.k12.or.us. A message can be left for Sharp with Lori Gleichman at 541-350-3106.