Silicon Insider: Tech Revolution off the Map

The next great technology revolution -- one that will define the first half of this century and bring a billion more consumers into the world Internet economy -- has already begun in two places you likely couldn't find on a map.

A few days ago, I happened upon a recent copy of The Economist. The magazine was facedown, so what I noticed first was a glossy back-page ad for Hitachi. Having written enough ad copy in my misspent youth to last a lifetime -- and knowing just how fraudulent most of it is -- I studiously ignore most tech ads.

But something about the familiar light in the ad's photos caught my eye: gray Oregon sky. Indeed, the misspelled headline read, "Smalltown Oregon Logs On" and there was the Coquille River passing through Bandon, Ore. And just below it was a photo of some of the princesses in the annual Bandon Cranberry Festival.

Bandon is a small fishing (and former logging) town of about 2,800 citizens located on the southwest coast of Oregon, on the so-called "Oregon Riviera" -- which means it is both warmer and wetter than the rest of the coast -- about 90 miles north of the California border.

The Tech Evolution of a Logging Town

Longtime readers of this column will remember that I've written about Bandon on a number of occasions. I first visited Bandon as a teenager, returned as a poor writer on my honeymoon more than 20 years ago, and have come up every year since. For the last seven years I've owned property on the beach there as well.

I've used little Bandon as a case study in how the high-tech revolution has come to small-town America. The little village I first visited as an adult was trapped in a downward spiral of recession as the logging industry dried up and the town's children moved away in search of work almost the instant they graduated from high school.

In those days, going to Bandon from Silicon Valley was like stepping back four decades in time. There were only a handful of TV and radio stations. Dial-up Internet access (when it finally came) took forever and was prone to cutoffs every few minutes. Cell phone calls (analog only) often took a half-dozen attempts as the cell rotated away every two minutes. FedEx took a drive to the little community airport and required an extra day for delivery. And a good gust of wind (it can hit 100 mph in the winter) would cut off the electricity for hours.

And that, of course, was both the appeal and the irritation of living in Bandon: When you wanted a break from the craziness of modern life, it offered the slow pace and low stress of old-fashioned, small-town life. But if you needed to get anything done on deadline, Bandon could also drive you half insane with frustration and isolation.

Why Is Bandon Featured in a High-Profile Ad?

Curious to find out why a global corporation like Hitachi would be talking about little Bandon, Ore., in a glossy ad in an international business magazine, I (after making sure no one was looking) tore off the back cover and took it home.

Here's what I read:

"The rugged Oregon coast is the last place you'd expect to find America's first 2.5 gigabit-connected town. But here's where it all started, thanks to fiber-to-the-home technology from Hitachi."

The ad also invited me to check out a video on the subject at Hitachi.com/truestories. So I did -- and got to see a nice (but expensive) little five-minute doc about how broadband is changing Bandon.

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