We at the Monmouth Independence Network (MINET) are utilizing public-private partnerships to expand our broadband network into Dallas, Ore., following our success in Monmouth and Independence.

The cities of Monmouth and Independence — both in Oregon — began building out MINET over 12 years ago. As part of the buildout, the cities established a high-capacity, head-end facility that is capable of serving many more thousands of homes and businesses than exist in its legacy market. Despite its municipal pedigree, MINET is not an exclusive provider. Its business is conducted in a highly competitive environment.

The need for MINET came about due to Independence and Monmouth historically being left behind infrastructurally. In the late 1990s, Independence and Monmouth city officials asked their telephone and cable companies when they could expect to receive broadband service. The answer was, “in about 20 years, maybe.”

That wasn’t good enough for these small, rural communities of about 20,000 people. Independence and Monmouth had already been bypassed by the major freeways built in the 1960s — they decided they would not be bypassed by the digital highway. In 1998, the cities decided to take matters into their own hands and create their own task force to begin planning their own network.

By 2006, network construction was underway. The vision of MINET was expansive; instead of building a cable television network, a wireless network, or even an internal municipal service (as some other Oregon cities had done), Monmouth and Independence leapt to fiber optic connections all the way to every home, farm, and business located in both cities.

Over time, MINET’s speed increased, rarely with additional fees. Beginning in 2006 with 2 Mbps, MINET’s common speed was raised to 5, 7, 20, 30, 50 and finally 60 Mbps. Today, residents can receive up to a gigabit and higher speeds of broadband service in their home or business.

The initial effects of MINET were impressive; small businesses have relocated here because of MINET. Telecommuting is not just a hope, it’s a reality for those who wish to enjoy small town life and big city work. The splash made by MINET’s presence is palpable. Conservative estimates show that there are 350-400 new area jobs, all because of MINET.

Despite MINET’s initial success, the network needed to work to keep citizens engaged. Don Patten — who took the general manager position for MINET in 2013 — noticed the network had hit a wall and wanted to bring new life to it. Competition had offered the citizenry faster speeds and cheaper prices, but the offers were barbed and thorny with contracts and conditions.  

Meanwhile, the debt undertaken to create MINET had become an issue in a local economy just coming out of recession, and complaint about MINET became the stuff of coffee shop discussions.

In 2014, MINET sent a delegation to Next Century Cities’ Gigabit Summit in Kansas City, Mo. That delegation was asked to make a presentation detailing the impact and economic advantage of a fiber optic system. They told the MINET story and got an unexpected reaction — wonder.

“You built a system yourselves? Two little towns?”  

“How did you do it? What’s the formula?”

MINET became a celebrity at that conference. It was the beginning of an opportunity to remind locals back home that they had done something extraordinary in building MINET and to remember their digital advantage.

At that time, the penetration rate — the percentage of users who are MINET customers — stood at 49 percent when Patten came to MINET. Under his leadership, he and his team have pushed MINET’s penetration in Monmouth and Independence above 85 percent and held it there.

However, debt required MINET to grow; there was not enough local market to adequately service the debt. Thus, MINET had to find a new way to expand.

This is where Willamette Valley Fiber comes into our story — the public-private partnership serves to expand the fiber network that MINET will power and operate. Dallas, Ore., will be the lucky community receiving the service.

Willamette Valley Fiber was born without municipal ties. With the blessing of MINET’s Board of Directors and owner-cities, MINET will connect its power and deliver quality product and service to the Dallas market. MINET is ready for this opportunity to expand via partnership into Dallas.

Willamette Valley Fiber has begun building the network and will light up first customers by the end of this year. Patten says that Willamette Valley Fiber will pair the speed and capacity that Dallas users want with high quality local service, a combination not available from any other provider.