'We're still running on copper wire, and it hurts economic development'

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - Much of a shopping center along Highway 99 in Cottage Grove has sat vacant for years despite efforts to recruit new businesses to town.

Companies that show interest in setting up shop in town often move on because the city doesn't have the telecommunications infrastructure needed to support call centers and computer-intensive businesses.

"We're still running on copper wire, and it hurts economic development," said Richard Meyers, Cottage Grove's city manager. "There's quite a lot of square footage there that's just not being used, it's empty, so we'd like to see some development going on, so the council has the go ahead and put that in."

Trenching for sewer work will allow the City to install fiber optic cables, which could clear the way for a call center to open in town.

But bringing high-speed Internet to every building in town carries a hefty price tag: an estimated $16 million to $20 million.

"The small communities like us, the carriers aren't coming," Meyers said. "We're not getting the broadband services. There truly is a digital divide in this country."

So the City is exploring ways to jumpstart improvements.

"We've got to get more businesses onto and into the business parts of the community, so that we can pay for expanding the fiber even more," Meyers said.