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Eugene, Ore., Named 'Gigabit City' by Nonprofit Mozilla Foundation

Eugene’s collaborative tech community, supportive environment for startups, and unique approach to bringing gigabit Internet to the region caught Mozilla’s attention.

by Sherri Buri McDonald, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore. / March 17, 2017

(TNS) -- Eugene beat out 47 other cities to be named a high-speed Internet “Gigabit City” by the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation.

 

The designation brings national recognition to Eugene and $150,000 in grants from Mozilla to launch local education and workforce development projects using high-speed, high-capacity Internet connections.

Eugene’s collaborative tech community, supportive environment for startups, and unique approach to bringing gigabit Internet to the region, including a high-speed fiber network being installed downtown, caught Mozilla’s attention.

Gigabit Internet connections are about 250 times faster than most other Internet connections, according to Mozilla. A gigabit is a measure of storage or data transfer equal to 1 billion bits.

“Eugene is at a tipping point and Mozilla’s partnership here stands to have a very positive impact in furthering Mozilla’s mission to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all,” Jenn Beard, Mozilla gigabit fund manager, said in a news release.

Eugene and Lafayette, La., are the latest cities to join the prestigious group, which also includes Austin, Tex.; Kansas City, Mo., and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Mozilla this spring will ask for project proposals from entrepreneurs, educators, researchers, nonprofit groups, and others. Grants will typically range from $5,000 to $30,000 for a 16-week pilot project.

Examples might include:

Distance learning — delivering online courses taught by Lane Community College instructors to students in Oakridge and Westfir.

Telemedicine initiatives designed to link patients in rural Lane County to health care experts in larger metropolitan cities.

Collaborations between the University of Oregon and off-campus researchers and entrepreneurs who use gigabit connections to tap into the university’s new supercomputer to help solve ”big, hairy problems,” said Matt Sayre, director of the Technology Association of Oregon, and one of a group of local advocates to bring faster, more affordable fiber Internet connections to Lane County.

He and others have built on a decades-long effort to create the largest publicly owned, open-access fiber optic network in Oregon.

The network, with pieces owned by public utilities, the city of Eugene, and a regional fiber consortium, extends to Oakridge, Westfir and Cottage Grove.

This network is called EUGNet www.eugnet.org

At the heart of the network is a municipal fiber project, bringing high-speed, affordable Internet service to about 120 buildings in downtown Eugene.

Some buildings are connected and scores more will be brought on starting this summer and continuing over the next 18 months, said Anne Fifield, a Eugene economic development planner. On March 21, the city of Eugene, Technology Association of Oregon and others will celebrate the launch of the so-called “middle mile,” 100-gigabit Internet connections from an exchange in downtown Eugene to Portland and to San Jose.

That will enable all the fiber hooked to the publicly-owned downtown Eugene exchange to use advanced services in Portland and San Jose “like you’re next door to them,” increasing Internet speeds and lowering costs, Fifield said.

The downtown and middle-mile fiber initiatives are a $3.8 million project, using property tax-based downtown urban renewal district funding, Fifield said.

Connections that fast put in the hands of ordinary people can lead to extraordinary opportunities, local fiber advocates say.

“I think we’ve helped create the platform for things to open up, and we’ll see what comes,” Fifield said.

“This has the potential to tap into the creative things we can do in technology, the arts and education,” she said.

“The City of Eugene has a long history of innovation,” Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis said in a news release. “We are the birthplace of Nike, the home of a world-class university and the heart of the region’s tech and creative sector, known as the Silicon Shire. With Mozilla’s partnership and our emerging gigabit infrastructure, we look forward to ushering in our next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, and educators. We are excited to make new connections with other Mozilla Gigabit cities across the nation and to share our successes with the world.”

©2017 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.