Over the last 20 years, Grant County has experienced declines in population, commerce, and culture due to the closing of five lumber mills. Reinventing livelihoods in the small towns and unincorporated communities of the county relies on internet connectivity for jobs, education, and entrepreneurism. However, according to Oregon by the Numbers, just 61% of the county’s residents have access to high-speed internet, compared to 94% of all Oregonians. Those that have internet usually are using antiquated dial-up services.
In response, Didgette McCracken, OSU Extension’s Open Campus coordinator for Grant County, is one of the three founders of Grant County CyberMill, nonprofit that provides physical spaces where residents can access broadband services, as well as a space for collaborating on education and entrepreneurial opportunities. McCracken has convened community meetings, wrote grant requests and managed the project with community partners. As of December 2021, Grant County CyberMill has raised more than $404,000 to open CyberMill locations in Seneca, Prairie City and John Day. The first location in Seneca opened in November 2021 with WiFi access, work and meeting spaces, public computers, a virtual meeting microphone, speakers, and camera; and a copier, scanner and printer. Plans call for CyberMill locations to open in John Day and Prairie City in 2022.
As a result, by the end of 2022 Grant County residents will have physical spaces to access high-speed internet, leading to educational and entrepreneurial opportunities. In the first week of the opening in Seneca – which has a population of about 200 – 20 users registered to use the site. One person said they were able to complete their college federal financial aid forms. Another person updated their iPad in seconds, whereas at home it took an hour and that’s if they stayed connected.
Other use comments included:
- “I am able to work from my community now and not drive 30 minutes and find internet access.”
- “I have a place to meet with clients that receive senior services.”
- “I have relatives that can come visit and stay longer because they have the ability to work while they visit.”
- “I now have the option to work and live in Seneca.”