Silicon Insider: Broadband Goes Small Town

Broadband has come to Bandon-by-the-Sea.

Ever since I started this column I've tracked the impact of the technology revolution on the little town of Bandon on the southwestern coast of Oregon.

Even if you don't recognize the name, you've likely seen Bandon. Its two most celebrated landmarks are a cute little lighthouse with an attached octagon shaped keeper's house (the subject of endless postcards and needlepoint designs) and the rock monoliths on Bandon Beach, which serve as a backdrop for window company ads and Jeep commercials. The latter, in fact, were filmed in what is legally (since beach properties extend to the high tide line) my backyard.

Bandon now has a third landmark, one that has suddenly made this little former fishing-logging town famous to golfers around the world: a collection of spectacular Scottish links-style golf courses just a couple miles north of us called Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Pacific Trails. The first two are already rated among the best on earth, as Pacific Trails likely will be any day now, and there are rumors that a fourth course is in the works a few miles to the south. This will likely put Bandon at the epicenter of the greatest golfing area on the planet, exceeding even my Silicon Valley neighbor, Pebble Beach/Carmel.

Bandon Edges Toward Big Time

The first time I wrote about Bandon in this column, none of this had yet occurred. Indeed, Bandon at the time was merely a tiny town 25 miles south of Coos Bay, living on a dying timber industry, a fading fishing industry, and a small, cyclical tourist trade. It had a charming Old Town center -- essentially what was left after the rest burned up in the 1930s -- where you could sit at a counter next to some tired fisherman and get a bowl of superb clam chowder for a couple of bucks. Jobs were slim, houses were jaw-droppingly cheap, and most young people graduated from high school and never came back. In the early evenings you could walk down a two-mile stretch of empty beach and watch the most amazing sunsets all by yourself.

In other words, Bandon was a kind of sanctuary from the growing insanity that was building in Silicon Valley during the run up to the dot-com bubble. You had to drive to Coos Bay just to buy a computer, and an unpredictable phone system played havoc with dial-up modems. For a long time, you couldn't even use your cell phone here; and when analog cellular did arrive, the microwave antenna seemed to rotate away every two minutes. Those were the days when I was running Forbes ASAP magazine, and one conversation with my assistant once took 11 phone calls.

But even then Bandon was changing. When I first visited here as a boy, 40 years ago, the town might have been on another planet. By the time my wife and I drove up here for our honeymoon, they were just installing the first ATM and the second traffic light in town.

By the mid-1990s, when we were bringing our young sons up here to escape the chaos of the valley, major changes were already under way. The first cohort of aging Californians -- the vanguard of the baby boomers -- had realized they could put the home they bought in Palo Alto or Santa Monica for $35,000 on the market, sell it for $850,000, and retire in splendor on the Oregon Riviera (70 degree days in October, endless rain in January) in a $250,000 mini mansion on the beach.

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