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MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - Multnomah County is looking to become one of the nation's largest public internet providers. Wednesday, the leaders from the county and several city leaders came together to kick off talks on a public internet option.

If the plans come together, broadband fiber internet would become a public utility much like how water and sewer is now.

The idea spawned back in 2017 when talks about net neutrality in the federal government were happening. During that time, the group Municipal Broadband Portland, was formed. They say they began studying the idea of internet access being a public utility.

The group then took their ideas to leaders across Multnomah County.

Wednesday, leaders from five cities and the county met at Fairview City Hall to talk about what their public run internet may look like.

There are no preliminary numbers on what a new fiber network would cost the tax payers. The six government groups have pledged $250,000 to study the idea.

"If you look at broadband as kinds of critical infrastructure for all modern societies, you know we really don’t have solid infrastructure, we have this patch work of different private companies with different technologies," Michael Hanna with Municipal Broadband PDX said.

The City of Hillsboro is currently working to launch their own public internet service. The new service called HiLight, is set to launch in winter 2019-20.

On the the city's website they write service costs $55 a month for 1 gigabit speed, low-income customers will pay $10 a month.

Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran says she likes the idea of getting internet access to low-income homes.

The county says 15-percent of Portland-area households lack internet access at home. That number is 18-percent for households with incomes under $30,000 annually, 28-percent for those 65 and older and 30-percent for Hispanic households. The purpose of municipal broadband is to bridge the digital equity gap by making fast, affordable and reliable internet available to all.

"Internet access could be provided by a public utility," Meieran said. "In this digital age, people rely on the internet for school, work, information, and connection to their community. Access to the internet needs to be as fundamental as access to water and electricity so that everyone has the opportunity to learn, work and engage."

Multnomah County's feasible study is expected to be done in the spring of 2020.

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